Judge says disposed fetus, tissue isn't person

SANDUSKY, Ohio - A hospital whose employee stored about 90 fetuses or fetal tissue instead of disposing them didn't violate the law, said a county judge, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling.

Erie County Judge Tygh Tone ruled against extending the definition of "person" to include fetal tissue based on Roe v. Wade, which set a precedent that legal rights of a "person" have "generally been contingent upon live birth."

The judge dismissed four claims in a lawsuit against Firelands Community Hospital, now known Firelands Regional Medical Center.

Two women who had miscarriages or stillbirths at the hospital filed a class action lawsuit against the hospital in 1997, claiming the hospital committed fraud because hospital staff did not tell them how the fetal tissue would be disposed.

Michael Murray, a lawyer for the women, said they will appeal. He said there is no precedent for the case.

The judge's ruling did not stop them from pursuing emotional distress claims against the hospital and the former employee who stored the fetal tissue in containers on a shelf in the hospital morgue for up to 10 years.

The women said they had nightmares after learning that Patricia Lukas, a technician in the morgue, saved fetal tissue rather than disposing of it in a grinder, which was the hospital's policy.

Lukas was eventually fired.

The judge wrote he believed no fraud occurred.

The hospital stated it "would take care of the tissue, and no matter if it was stored or grinded, the tissue was removed from the care of the plaintiffs and taken care of," he said.

The hospital also had no duty to disclose how it would dispose of the tissue, the ruling said.

"Lukas was simply trying to balance her own religious beliefs with the requirements of her job," the judge said, citing Lukas' court brief. "However, Lukas' religious beliefs that fetal tissue should not be placed in the grinder may be in conflict with religious beliefs of the plaintiffs."

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