Medical Examiner Suspended over 'Muslim Joke' During Autopsy May 29, 2019 15:06:41 GMT -5
Post by JoannaB on May 29, 2019 15:06:41 GMT -5
Medical Examiner Suspended over Alleged Muslim Joke During Autopsy
A medical examiner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was suspended for two weeks after someone complained about an allegedly inappropriate joke about a dead woman. During an autopsy performed on March 19, Sandra Thomas, M.D. (above), asked another doctor at the GBI’s morgue near Decatur if she knew how to do a “Muslim autopsy.” The other doctor claimed Thomas then lifted the neck of the dead woman and made a wailing sound called an “ululation,” a howling or wailing sound common at funerals in some cultures including those in the Middle East. Thomas repeated the question, and sound, which other doctors deemed inappropriate.
Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan Eisenstat, M.D., reported the incident to internal affairs. During an investigation authorized by agency director Vic Reynolds, Thomas expressed regret for her actions. The GBI suspended her from April 29 to May 10 without pay and had her sign a document acknowledging that future inappropriate action will result in her termination. “Your comments were extremely unprofessional, disrespectful and insensitive to those around you,” Reynolds wrote in a March 29 letter. The GBI did not name the person whose remains were being examined during the autopsy, but said she was not Muslim.
The Constitution-Journal reviewed two year’s of complaints related to the morgue and found two cases wherein workers were disciplined for conduct related to autopsies. In December 2018, an employee took a photo of another employee smiling with the severed head of an elderly Clayton County murder victim. Both employees were fired. The three other complaints were not related to autopsies.
Several Georgia coroners told the newspaper that all the GBI medical examiners they’ve dealt with are very professional and respectful of the dead.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, a former prosecutor and executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he has always been impressed by the GBI’s professionalism, but finds the subject case extremely upsetting. “A two-week suspension for playing with a dead body while mocking a faith community seems like a remarkably light punishment,” Mitchell said. “If playing with a dead body during an autopsy is not a fireable offense by itself, I do not know what is.”
The handful of employees interviewed in the internal investigation said they didn’t believe Thomas was motivated by ill will toward Muslims, but all considered her actions inappropriate. One offended morgue worker wondered if the joke was a tone-deaf attempt at dealing with the stress of the extremely busy morgue.
Thomas told the agency’s internal affairs unit she had heard the joke years earlier when she was a medical resident in Richmond, Va., and for some reason thought of it during the autopsy. The joke wasn’t meant to disparage the Muslim faith, she told insisted. “I made an absurd comment about a nonexistent autopsy,” Thomas told Fred Mays, director of the Office of Professional Standards. “How does that degrade another person’s faith?”
“When you’re pulling the neck of a torso and you’re making this sound,” Mays responded, “that’s poking fun and that’s degrading – you know that’s degrading.”
“I think it’s in the eye of the beholder,” Thomas replied.
Sources: Joshua Sharpe, The Atlanta Constitution-Journal, May 28, 2019; and BlackComedy.