Moms question force of organ-removal bill 

A Daly City mom whose son was buried without his heart when the coroner retained the organ now says a bill in the state Assembly she helped inspire doesn’t go far enough.

Selina Picon, mother to 23-year-old Nicolas, who died last October of a congenital heart defect, is lobbying for stronger language in a bill introduced by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco. Assembly Bill 1054, introduced last month, would require coroners to notify the deceased’s family in the event an organ is taken and require coroners to offer to return the organ once the cause of death is determined.

Mullin agreed to carry the bill after county Supervisor Adrienne Tissier approached him. Tissier, in addition to pushing for a state law, is working to craft a countywide "next-of-kin" notification law, legislative aide Brian Perkins said.

"They say they’re on board with me, but they’re not," Picon said, referring to local lawmakers. Picon said that while she hasn’t filed a lawsuit against the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office, she hasn’t ruled out the option.

She and fellow next-of-kin notification advocate Debra Maher want the law to require more than just notification. "We want families to have to give consent before any organs can be taken," Maher said.

Maher learned the coroner’s office had retained small tissue samples of her son, also named Nicholas, for identification purposes after he died last February.

Picon has also hired a lawyer to conduct an independent investigation into what happened to her son’s heart.

Picon’s case came public attention last month when she broke down and cried while relating to the Board of Supervisors the story of how her son was buried without his heart after the county coroner failed to inform her it was being kept for further testing. Although the practice of retaining organs is allowed under state law for purposes of determining the cause of death, supervisors panned the coroner’s office for failing to notify Picon and otherfamilies when it occurs.

Due to Nicolas’ heart condition, the coroner’s office had planned to have the organ examined by a forensic cardiologist, or heart specialist, but instead returned it to Picon after she complained, said county Coroner Robert Foucrault on Monday.

While prior approval to take an organ maybe ideal, exceptions such as criminal investigations and public health risks make such a law more complicated to win approval, Perkins said.

In fact, seeking the most stringent regulations possible while still be able to convince Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign the bill is the focus of his efforts, said Assemblyman Mullin, who indicated amendments might be expected.

"We’re very confident that we’ll have language that will be acceptable to everybody," Mullin said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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