Preserving the Dignity of Death in the Digital Age

Technology develops quickly, but law evolves to meet it at a much slower rate. Megan Guess at Ars Technica reported on an important recognition of the way that the internet’s viral power may very well compromise one of our dearest legal and moral protections.

On Wednesday, Ninth Circuit judge Alex Kozinski ruled that San Diego County, Coulter’s employer, violated Brenda Marsh’s due process constitutional rights when Coulter made photocopies of 16 images in her son’s autopsy reports for himself and later gave them out to a newspaper and TV station. While many states and counties have laws forbidding the dissemination of death-scene images unless the photos are given out by family members, this ruling is the first that says it is also a constitutional right for family members to be able to protect their privacy after a loved one’s death.

In his decision, Kozinski writes:

“Marsh claims that when she learned that Coulter sent her son’s autopsy photograph to the press, she was “horrified; and suffered severe emotional distress, fearing the day that she would go on the Internet and find her son’s hideous autopsy photos displayed there.” Marsh’s fear is not unreasonable given the viral nature of the Internet, where she might easily stumble upon photographs of her dead son on news websites, blogs or social media websites. This intrusion into the grief of a mother over her dead son—without any legitimate governmental purpose—“shocks the conscience” and therefore violates Marsh’s substantive due process right.

via “Viral nature of the Internet” means only family can release autopsy photos.

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