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State v. Powell

497 So. 2d 1188 (1986)

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State v. Powell

Florida Supreme Court

497 So. 2d 1188 (1986)

Facts

Corneal transplants can reverse certain forms of blindness. Effective corneal transplants require high-quality corneal tissue that was removed from a donor less than 10 hours after death. At the time of this case, the State of Florida spent $138 million annually in aid to the blind and 10 percent of Florida’s blind citizens were corneal-transplant candidates. A Florida statute allowed medical examiners to remove decedents’ corneas if: (1) the decedent was under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction, (2) Florida law mandated the autopsy, (3) the removal would not interfere with the death investigation, and (4) an eye bank had requested the cornea due to a current need for donor tissue. The statute prohibited removal of the tissue if a decedent’s next of kin objected. However, the statute imposed no requirement to notify the next of kin of the procedure. After the statute was passed, the quantity and quality of corneal tissue available for transplant in Florida increased. James White and Anthony Powell (decedents) died in separate accidents, and medical examiners autopsied their bodies. During the autopsies, the medical examiners removed the decedents’ corneas as authorized by the statute. The decedents’ parents (plaintiffs) filed suit, claiming that the medical examiners had wrongfully removed the corneas and that the statute allowing the removal of the tissue was unconstitutional. The trial court granted the parents’ motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals certified the question of the statute’s constitutionality to the Florida Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Overton, J.)

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