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NY Medical Examiner Challenged in End-of-Life Directive Lawsuit


Friday, December 17, 2021   

A lawsuit claims the New York City Medical Examiner's Office violated the advance directive of a transgender Muslim man who specified what to do with his remains upon his death.

Shawn Frederick died in November 2018, giving his partner Nakemia Stanley the legal right to make decisions about Frederick's burial. After Frederick died, the suit claims that agreement was ignored; the body was released to his biological family, who didn't accept Frederick's gender identity or faith.

Remy Green, a partner at Cohen and Green, PLLC who is representing Stanley, said it's a violation of her right to sepulcher and caused her so much stress that she miscarried twins.

"It's not a right that somebody has to intend to violate," Green said. "There's no 'do-overs' here. You get one shot at putting somebody to rest in accordance with their wishes - and if you get it wrong, the harm is incalculable."

The group Compassion & Choices filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit. A violation of the right to sepulcher provides monetary relief to the person denied immediate control of a loved one's remains. The case is pending in the New York Supreme Court.

Frederick's body eventually was released to Stanley one month later, when she was able to arrange for a proper burial - but much later than is expected in Islam.

Amitai Heller, a senior staff attorney with Compassion & Choices, said this case is about ensuring this doesn't happen again to any New Yorker.

"When we don't respect somebody's disposition directive, it dishonors the dead," Heller said. "These laws also protect the autonomy and the bodily integrity of people who are living - because in their final moments, they can die knowing that their values and their religious beliefs will be honored."

The lawsuit also alleges discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation and marital status. The New York City Medical Examiner's Office said in a statement that it "takes seriously the responsibility to handle all decedents in our custody with the greatest integrity and care." The spokesperson said upon notification of these concerns, the office worked to get Frederick's remains to his partner as quickly as possible.

Disclosure: Compassion & Choices contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Health Issues, Senior Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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