When Richard Newman died in Los Angeles in 1997, his body was taken to the county coroner's office for a routine autopsy. Two years later, Newman's father learned that during the autopsy the coroner had removed his son's corneas without asking the family's permission. At the time, this was the office's normal practice. It was the product of both high and low motives. There was a desperate shortage of corneas for transplant, and corneas must be transplanted very soon after death, often too soon to obtain the consent of the next of kin. On the other hand, this same shortage made the corneas a valuable commodity, and the coroner's office earned $250 per pair by selling them to an eye bank. Newman's father sued the coroner's office for damages. The basis for the suit was that the coroner had violated the constitutional rights of Newman and his father by depriving them of property without due process of law. But were Newman's corneas a kind of property? And if they were, who was their owner once Richard Newman was dead?
-Stuart Banner, from the introduction to American Property: A History of How, Why and What We Own