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Bill that allows religious exemptions to autopsies heads to Gov. Dayton

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A bill that would allow families to object to autopsies on their loved ones based on their religious or spiritual beliefs is going to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk.

The bill passed in the House, 128-3, Saturday and passed unanimously in the Senate last week.

Religious objections to autopsies made headlines earlier this year when an American Indian family was forced to get a court order to prevent an autopsy on their loved one. The family objected to the autopsy because doing one violates their spiritual beliefs.

Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, who authored the bill says it "has gone into great depth" to solve a problem of current law that gives most of the authority to medical examiners and coroners, Forum News Service says.

The bill would require the coroner or medical examiner to communicate with the deceased's family prior to the autopsy, giving them a chance to object based on their beliefs, the Session Daily reports.

But coroners and medical examiners could still proceed with the autopsy if the death meets certain conditions, such as performing an autopsy on a body that's part of a police investigation; if a person, who didn't have an underlying disease, died suddenly; or if the public interest would be served by an autopsy, among other circumstances.

For cases that don't meet the conditions, coroners and medical examiners would have to ask a judge for authority to perform an autopsy. Family members would be able to submit evidence against an autopsy.

Autopsies that are performed after a family has objected due to religious beliefs must "be the least intrusive procedure consistent with that interest," the bill notes.

Some raised concerns regarding the bill, including Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, who was worried about the definition of "compelling state interest" that left out types of deaths listed in current law as reasons for an autopsy, the Session Daily notes.

If Dayton signs the bill into law, it will go into effect July 1.

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