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Report: Medical Examiner’s Office Took Dead Children’s Eyes

October 27, 1994

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office removed eyes and optic nerves from 19 dead children and infants without relatives’ permission and used them in a study, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today.

Dr. Allen Chandler, medical director in the city Health Department, said the eye removal was a legitimate part of the autopsies and permission from next of kin therefore was not required.

″If the procedures were not done, one could say the autopsies were not complete,″ Chandler said.

The study, reported in the March issue of Ophthalmology Magazine, covered 23 months ending in August 1990 and was a joint effort of the medical examiner’s office and the Scheie Eye Institute in Philadelphia.

Eyes were removed from nine children who died from blunt trauma to the head, four victims of shaken baby syndrome and six babies who died of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. All children were younger than 3 years.

The study found that victims of shaken baby syndrome suffered fatal brain and optic nerve damage similar to that suffered by victims of blunt trauma. The SIDS victims did not.

Chandler said guidelines from the state Attorney General’s Office call for removing and analyzing eyes of infant victims of sudden, unexplained deaths. The guidelines were issued in 1991, more than a year after the study had ended.

City officials would not identify the children, but the newspaper obtained records that identified some of them.

″They asked me about transplanting his organs and I definitely said not,″ said Marva Garner, grandmother and legal guardian of Kareem Garner, who died at 22 months at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in 1989. ″They never asked me about his eyes. Never.″

Kareem’s mother’s boyfriend was charged in the boy’s death.

Six lawsuits are pending against the medical examiner’s office for providing 26 brains to the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, also without relatives’ permission.

The examiner’s office also has been criticized recently for providing 38 cadavers temporarily to a private medical imaging facility, without family consent, for research on imaging equipment.

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