Lawsuit Claims Alabama Prisoners’ Organs Missing, UAB Responds to Autopsy Allegations

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – In response to a federal lawsuit that claims two families received the bodies of their deceased relatives without certain organs, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has addressed the allegations surrounding autopsy practices. The lawsuit was filed in December 2023, involving the case of Brandon Clay Dotson, who died at Ventress prison in Barbour County. Dotson’s family filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) after allegedly receiving his decomposing body without a heart. Another inmate’s daughter, Charlene Drake, also claimed that her father’s body was missing all internal organs when it was returned in 2021.

UAB recently issued a statement regarding the autopsies performed for the ADOC, addressing what they called “misleading assertions” surrounding the practice. The university mentioned that it is standard for autopsies to involve the removal and examination of all major organs. According to UAB, the collection and retention of tissue and fluid specimens are essential for determining the cause of death. While in some cases only small portions of tissues and fluids are retained, the pathologist may decide to retain organs or organ blocks for further examination and testing based on evidence-based medicine.

Contrary to media reports, UAB emphasized that they do not harvest organs from inmates’ bodies for research purposes. The university clarified that they are one of the providers conducting autopsies as directed by the state of Alabama. It is the responsibility of the ADOC to obtain proper authorization from the legal representative of the deceased before conducting autopsies. These authorizations cover not only the permission for the autopsy but also the consent for the removal of organs or tissues for diagnostic or further testing, including final disposition.

The statement released by UAB stated that the specimens collected during autopsies can be retained even after the release of the body to the next-of-kin for the purpose of determining the cause of death. UAB provided a link to their website for those interested in reading the complete statement.

In light of the lawsuit and the allegations made by the families, UAB’s response addresses the procedures followed in their autopsies conducted for the ADOC. The statement aims to clarify any misconceptions surrounding the practice and emphasizes the importance of retaining specimens for determining the cause of death.