REDWOOD CITY — Selina Picon's crusade to require coroners who retain body parts to notify the next of kin has taken a giant step forward: Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, will turn her hopes into a bill.

Last year the Daly City resident discovered that the San Mateo County Coroner's Office had retained her 23-year-old son's heart after he'd been buried. Nicholas Picon died of a heart defect in October.

Picon said she was ecstatic to hear that Mullin had picked up her cause.

"It's not going to bring my son back," Picon said. "But it's going to help some other mother or other father or other family."

Upset about the situation, Picon had contacted Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, whose district includes Daly City. On Jan. 29 the Board of Supervisors' Legislative Committee voted to push for legislation that would re-quire notification. On Tuesday the full board approved the pursuit.

Simultaneously, discussions were held with Mullin's office. With legislative session deadlines looming, the proposed bill was submitted by his staff on Jan. 22 to the Office of Legislative Counsel, which will draft the bill's precise language and make sure it is assigned the proper government code.

To be considered in this year's legislative session, Mullin's office must submit the bill by Feb. 23. Then it will be assigned a bill number and begin winding its way through legislative committees.

Mullin said he gets well over 100 bill proposals at the start of each year, and that he pursues only about two dozen.


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The idea for this bill, he said, was compelling.

"It just seemed to run counter to all openness laws and transparency," Mullin said. "We don't look at it as a gruesome thing. We look at it as an area that needs to be shored up and are fairly confident that most will be supportive of it."

Coroners have wide jurisdiction to retain body parts of the deceased — including organs, tissues, bones, arteries and blood — for further examination or training. But they are not required to notify any next of kin that they've kept a piece of their beloved, or offer to return it.

The proposal mandates that a coroner notify next of kin that body parts may be retained and offer to return them when they are no longer needed. Notification would be enough in advance that a family could make final plans.

Neither notification nor an offer to return parts would be required if such actions might compromise a criminal investigation.

Coroner Robert Foucrault said that his office has retained 105 whole organs from 1,800 autopsies since 2004. Foucrault, who is first vice president of the California State Coroners' Association, said he supports the law change and plans to ask for the support from the association next month.

He said his office already has instituted an informal notification policy. Recognizing that state legislation takes time, Tissier also plans to introduce an official county policy change in the coming weeks.

She hopes other legislators who represent San Mateo County will get behind the bill.

"To me, that shows incredible strength for a very important issue," she said.

Staff writer Rebekah Gordon can be reached at (650) 306-2428 or rgordon@sanmateocountytimes.com.