Jim Hood comes out against having qualified forensic pathologists

There’s a state statute that allows counties to group together to form a district and have a medical examiner from that pool of counties as a district. Several county coroners asked Jim Hood for an opinion whether they could form a district and hire Dr. Hayne (well, hire a hypothetical doctor) even though he was not on the state list. Hood obligingly opined that, because the statute provides that such a district medical examiner will have the same powers as the state medical examiner, those district examiners are not subject to the authority of the state medical examiner and therefore didn’t have to qualify by being on the list of qualified pathologists. This effort was the subject of an excellent article by Radley Balko at Reason, and was virtually ignored in Mississippi media (except for some parts of the blogosphere).

I’ll interject here that the hypothetical doctor apparently didn’t have to meet the qualification for state medical examiner– that the examiner “be certified in forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology” (Miss. Code Ann. § 41-61-55), a qualification Dr. Hayne does not hold.

The opinion also threw in that this “district” examiner could use the state morgue facility, which would be reimbursed the costs of using the facilities, equipment, and supplies.

I’ve made this all sound almost rational. But look at what is being done here: We have a list of qualified forensic pathologists, established by the Department of Public Safety. The county coroners (elected officials who are required to hold no more medical qualifications than I hold, or, for that matter, than my English setter holds) would be allowed to end-run around that by hiring a district medical examiner who did not have to be on the list and did not have to meet the qualifications for state medical examiner (that is, of being board-certified in forensic pathology).

And it was all to the end of putting back into business the doctor responsible for debacles like this.

So, as noted at the head of this post, a bill almost passed the legislature to close this loophole (and block disgraced former pathologist Stephen Hayne from reentering the business) and Attorney General Jim Hood is attempting to kill it at the last moment. I hope he fails.

NMC
3/12/10