A New York State appeals court ruled Wednesday that coroners are not required to give organs back to the family of the deceased for burial after an autopsy, and are not even required to tell the family that the organs have been removed, the New York Daily News reports.

The ruling is a response to the family of a Staten Island teen who died in a 2005 car crash. He was autopsied and buried without incident, but a few months later his classmates (including his girlfriend) took a field trip to the morgue with their forensic science club and saw his brain in a jar. It was labeled with his name. His family then filed suit against the city, claiming that their religious rights had been violated and that they’d basically been lied to. They were awarded $600,000 in damages in 2010, but the city appealed, claiming that the coroners were just doing their jobs.

“There is simply no legal directive that requires a medical examiner to return organs or tissue samples derived from a lawful autopsy,” Judge Eugene Pigott wrote in his decision.

On one hand, it must be incredibly disturbing to see your friend’s brain in a jar, especially when you’re not expecting it, and upsetting to find out that your son’s brain got taken out and you didn’t even know it and then he was buried without it. On the other hand, he’s dead. He doesn’t need that brain anymore. In fact, the morgue might be able to put it to good use. The morgue probably should at least get permission/inform the family, though, even if they’re not obligated. This is a story with a lot of gray area (gray matter, if you will).

(Photo: Kaushik Narasimhan)