Can a homicide victim also be an organ donor?

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Right now there are more than 120,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ transplant. A little more than half, 54 percent, of Americans are registered donors.

But, it’s estimated that only three out of every thousand people die in a way that makes him or her eligible to donate organs. And not everyone dies of natural causes. Many deaths require an autopsy to determine cause and manner of death for a criminal investigation.

The National Association of Medical Examiners estimate 70 percent of potential donors are under a medical examiner or coroner’s jurisdiction.

Which was the case for Brian Lowe Jr. when he was shot in the head on October 25, 2017. He was pronounced brain dead and put on life support.

“He was a jokester and always wanted to make people laugh,” Linda Lowe, Brian’s mom, said. “He loved music and loved backyard wrestling.”

Lowe was also an organ donor. The 31-year-old father of two signed up to be a donor at the BMV when he was 19.

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards filed a search warrant for Brian’s body to perform an autopsy to determine cause and manner of death.  The Indiana Donor Networks filed a counter restraining order to allow for organ donation first.

That led to a battle in court, while Mr. Lowe was still on life support in a hospital.

In the hearing Prosecutor Karen Richards told the judge that “if we allow organ procurement, then we can’t do a full and complete autopsy. If I say ‘okay’ and can’t prove a homicide case because I don’t’ have a full and complete autopsy, then I’m answerable to the community for that.”

But the attorneys for the Indiana Donor Network countered that “We have cooperated with coroners for homicide investigations. This is not anything new. He has a gunshot wound to the head, so other organs in the body … would be procured without interfering with the autopsy.”

Judge Stan Levine ruled in favor of the Prosecutor’s Office and denied the Donor Network’s restraining order, saying importance of autopsy for a successful prosecution outweighed importance of organ donation.

Is there a way for the two procedures to work together? Can a homicide victim donate organs and still have an autopsy to prove the criminal case in court?

“Yes,” Marion County Chief Deputy Coroner Alfarena Ballew said in short.

15 Finds Out’s months-long investigation uncovered cases where a homicide victim donated organs and a cause and manner of death for the criminal investigation was still achieved.

We explore how the two procedures can work together and when they can’t. Plus, some laws in other states might surprise you. And find out why the case in Allen County isn’t over yet. Why what happened after Brian Lowe was shot is still being battled in court.

Don’t miss Organ Arguments, Wednesday at 6 p.m.

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