Maine Newspaper Sues for Brain-Harvest Documents

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(AP) The newspaper that has been investigating a state brain harvesting program has gone to court in a bid to obtain state records from the program.

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram filed a lawsuit yesterday asking for copies of organ donation consent forms signed by family members of recently deceased Mainers whose bodies were in the custody of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The suit was filed in Kennebec County Superior Court.

The newspaper, in a story published today, said it conducted a 10-month investigation into the program, which included reviewing consent forms with the names of the parties blacked out.

Without a review of the complete forms, there is no way of knowing whether other brains were removed without proper consent, said the newspaper?s lawyer, Sigmund Schutz.

“What we are after is the names of people who allegedly gave their consent,” Schutz said. “The only way to investigate further is to contact people and ask them what, in fact, happened.”

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Knowlton said in a letter Jan. 21 that the forms are “report documents” that are exempted from the state?s public-access law.

Knowlton declined to comment about the case yesterday, saying that the letter “speaks for itself.”

In his letter refusing to release the documents, Knowlton wrote that the documents fall under the definition of investigative information and should be confidential because “there would be a reasonable possibility that public release or inspection of the reports or records would … constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Schutz said there was no state investigation at the time the records were first requested so the forms should not be governed by that law.

“There is no exception in Maine law that covers consent forms,” he said.

Two families have filed separate lawsuits claiming that a relative’s brain was collected without their permission.

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