scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Mass. lawmakers revive proposal requiring state’s chief medical examiner to review autopsies of young children

Nada Siddiqui (left) and Sameer Sabir stand in the neighborhood where they lived when their 1-year-old daughter, Rehma, was found unresponsive in January 2013.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Months after the measure stalled, the Massachusetts House on Monday passed a proposal that would require the state’s chief medical examiner to personally review and approve all autopsies of children younger than 2, reviving its chances with just weeks left in Beacon Hill’s legislative session.

The measure had been stripped from the state’s annual budget proposal in July in the face of opposition from Governor Charlie Baker’s administration. The omission surprised proponents, who argued it could create a new level of accountability in the state office tasked with investigating suspicious or unexplained deaths.

On Monday, it suddenly reemerged. House lawmakers unveiled, and later passed, a version of the proposal, moving it to the Senate with roughly three weeks left before the Legislature’s new two-year session begins Jan. 4. Its movement surprised even its primary sponsor in the Senate.

Advertisement



“I don’t think this is a heavy lift,” state Senator Cindy Friedman, the bill’s co-sponsor, said of passing it in the coming weeks.

Friedman, an Arlington Democrat, said Monday she had yet to speak with Senate leadership about taking it up again, and Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, the chamber’s budget chairman, did not respond to a request for comment. In July, some proponents had blamed state Senate leaders for the measure’s initial failure during closed-door budget negotiations.

“This is the least that we can do when these kinds of things happen,” Friedman said of the proposal. “It’s just a check, and a check around something that’s just incredibly devastating.”

The bill’s reemergence comes just weeks after Baker reappointed Dr. Mindy J. Hull to a second five-year term as the state’s chief medical examiner. Her office is also in the midst of investigating the discovery of four sets of human remains — all infants — inside a South Boston condo.

Advertisement



The House originally passed the measure in April as part of its budget proposal, requiring that Hull sign off on any rulings or revisions made by those performing autopsies in her office on a child under the age of 2.

Lawmakers had lobbied for the requirement alongside Sameer Sabir, whose 1-year-old daughter Rehma died in January 2013 after she was found unresponsive while in the care of her nanny. What caused her death became the subject of a fierce, years-long legal dispute.

Her nanny, Aisling Brady McCarthy, was initially charged in Rehma’s death after the medical examiner handling the case ruled Rehma’s death a homicide by blunt force trauma. But weeks before the case was set to go to trial, the examiner reversed her findings, ruling that the child’s death was inconclusive, possibly caused by a brain bleed of unknown cause. Her ruling prompted prosecutors to drop the murder charges.

Sabir said Monday that he was grateful the bill was “getting a second bite of the apple.”

“It’s very rare that a simple change can potentially have a profound impact on how a whole category of cases are handled,” Sabir said. He urged the Senate to also pass the bill and, should it reach Baker, for the governor to sign it before he leaves office next month. “Our sponsors recognize the importance of accurately determining how and why children die and the effect that this has bereaved families, the effect it has on the justice system, and the course of justice.”

Advertisement



The Baker administration, including Hull, have resisted the change. Terrence M. Reidy, Baker’s public safety secretary, had argued that Hull, a certified pathologist, serves “far more in an executive role than a medical one.”

He also said that Hull’s office had already implemented its own oversight in the deaths of a child 2 or younger, creating a policy that the assigned medical examiner present their proposed findings “to a conference of several peers” that includes Hull or her deputy chief medical examiner.

A Baker spokesman on Monday declined to say whether Baker would veto the bill, saying the governor would review any legislation that reaches his desk.



Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout.