Mother urges lawmakers to allow parents to view child's body before autopsy

Woman pushing for law to allow parents to see child's body before autopsy

AUSTIN, Texas -- It’s never something a parent wants to think about - the death of their child.

But if that unimaginable tragedy does happen, one mom is working to change the law to allow parents to have the chance to see their child's body before an autopsy.

Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice unanimously passed Senate Bill 239, authored by Senator Donna Campbell.

Right now, the law doesn’t guarantee a parent the opportunity to see their child’s body before an autopsy.

Lara McDaniel is changing that. The bill is also known as “Wyatt’s Law” after McDaniel’s son Wyatt.

McDaniel lost her 7-year-old boy almost four years ago when a sand pile collapsed on him and suffocated him.

"It destroys you,” said McDaniel.

Wyatt was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead, but McDaniel said she wasn't allowed to see his body.

"They actually snuck him out of the hospital to the medical examiner's office while I was sitting in a room waiting to see him,” said McDaniel. "We were denied access to see him until after his autopsy was performed."

She said it still haunts her to this day and didn’t let her properly grieve.

"By the time we were able to see him three days later after the autopsy, it wasn't him anymore,” said McDaniel. "The autopsy procedure is horrid."

She wonders if one more motherly touch would have woken him up.

"I will never stop wondering, did he just need me? Could I have just gone in there and been with him? Maybe that's what he needed?" said McDaniel.

She said she went through a lot of denial.

"It's hard to walk away from the hospital being told that your child that you've never been away from before has died and just leave him there and not have any visual confirmation what they're telling you is true," said McDaniel. 

So she's pushing for SB 239, which would allow for a parent to see their child's body before an autopsy.

"I just believe very much that that's a right that a parent should have,” said McDaniel.

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell, a member of the Justice of the Peace and Constables Association, supports the idea.

"It's been my experience as a judge that most parents want to see their deceased child," said Gravell. 

He said it's an important first step in the healing process.

"Ultimately I'm the judge who signs the death certificate it's my responsibility to determine the cause and manner of death, as judges we believe that it's important for families to begin this very painful healing process of seeing their loved one," said Gravell. "I believe family members have the right to view the bodies of their deceased loved ones, as long as it doesn't intervene with the law enforcement investigation that's going on." 

McDaniel understands preserving evidence for an investigation but still thinks a parent deserves the opportunity. 

"Letting a parent set eyes on their child is not going to compromise the evidence," said McDaniel.

Instead, she said it will start their path to grieving.

As part of the bill, under some circumstances, the parent’s visit would be supervised by law enforcement.

The bill will now go to the Senate floor.
 

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