The following is from The Olympian (Olympia, WA), Dec. 24, 2011:
The death of a 54-year-old Jewish man on a snowy slope on Mount Rainier this month set the stage for a Pierce County court fight pitting religious belief against scientific certainty.
Brian Grobois of New Rochelle, N.Y., died on a solo snowshoe hike, apparently from hypothermia. His body was recovered Dec. 13.
Three days later, a judge upheld an appeal barring Pierce County’s medical examiner from conducting an autopsy on Grobois’ body because of religious objections from the family. It’s believed to be the first time that has occurred in Pierce County.
The case attracted the interest of County Executive Pat McCarthy, Gov. Chris Gregoire, Jewish leaders from around the country and even nationally known consumer-rights attorney Erin Brockovich.
Grobois was an Orthodox Jew. Jewish law requires that the body be returned to the earth complete and as quickly as possible so the soul can rest and the family can properly grieve, said Rabbi Zalman Heber, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Pierce County.
Heber said Jewish law also considers autopsies a desecration. Orthodox Jews adhere to the traditional interpretation of the Torah and its laws. “This is not a matter of life and death. This is a matter of death and afterlife,” Heber said Friday. He helped the Grobois family and rallied support for their cause across the country.
But Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark said state law clearly empowers him to investigate unnatural deaths. He determined an autopsy was needed to answer questions that arose in his mind about how Grobois died.
For summaries of other cases dealing with autopsies of Jewish decedents, click here.