Organ Retention

When an autopsy is conducted there are occasions when an organ(s) must be retained for further examination. This retention process occurs whenever the assigned Pathologist believes that retention of the organ(s) is necessary in order to complete his or her investigation into the cause and manner of death. The organ retention process is authorized by California Government Code Section 27491.45, which allows the assigned Pathologist to retain the organ(s) and if necessary to submit it/them to an outside laboratory for further analysis.


If retention of an organ is necessary, the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office shall make a reasonable effort to locate and advise the legal next-of-kin of the Pathologist’s decision to retain the organ. All reasonable efforts will be made to ensure that this notification is made in a timely manner so that the next-of-kin can plan for final disposition of both the decedent and the retained organ.


The organ may be retained for several weeks, and any subsequent release of the organ shall be in compliance with any laws regarding the safe disposition and handling of retained organs. In the majority of cases the organ will be disposed of pursuant to the direction of the legal next of kin. If the legal next of kin does not provide directions for final disposition of the organ(s), the organ(s) will be cremated and the ashes disposed of in a compassionate manner. Notification to the next of kin shall not be made, if in the opinion of the Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office, such notification may compromise the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation.

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