At a Glance:
In Stanley v. City of New York, Compassion & Choices submitted an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the State of New York (in New York the trial court is called the Supreme Court) on November 30, 2021, to support a lawsuit claiming New York City violated a transgender Muslim man’s specific instructions about how to dispose of his remains. Contrary to those instructions, his remains were released to his biological family who planned a ceremony that was inconsistent with his religious beliefs and his gender identity. The suit alleges that the state’s failure to follow his directive caused his pregnant partner so much distress that she miscarried twins. On November 7, 2022, the trial court found that the City of New York was liable for releasing the man’s remains against his explicit wishes. The case will now proceed to trial to determine the damages owed to Ms. Stanley.
Before his death, Shawn Frederick, a transgender Muslim man, properly executed the New York State Department of Health form assigning control of the disposition of his remains to his pregnant partner, Nakemia Stanley. By signing this document, Mr. Frederick was making explicit that he did not want the commemoration and ritual surrounding his death to be determined by his biological family, who refused to accept his gender identity and conversion to Islam.
Soon after his death, Mr. Frederick’s body was transported to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. While city officials did not contest the validity of the directive, they nonetheless released Mr. Frederick’s body to his biological family, whom, as he feared, used his deadname, misgendered him, and planned for an open casket funeral service and Christian burial.
It was only after Ms. Stanley implored city officials that Mr. Frederick’s body was returned to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where it was held for almost a month. During this ordeal, Ms. Stanley, eight months pregnant and overwhelmed by stress, went into early labor and ended up miscarrying twins.
On January 20, 2020, Ms. Stanley filed a lawsuit against the City of New York. The lawsuit claims city officials violated her Right to Sepulcher, a common law right that provides monetary relief to an individual who has been denied the ability to immediately control the disposition of a loved one’s body. The suit also alleges discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and marital status, as well as a tort claim for infliction of emotional distress.
On November 30, 2021 Compassion & Choices, with assistance from WilmerHale, submitted a motion to file an amicus brief in support of Ms. Stanley to alert the Court of the importance and implications of strictly adhering to an individual’s end-of-life directives. The brief argued that promptly honoring advance directives upholds patient autonomy and provides reassurance to dying persons and their survivors. The brief also explained why honoring such directives is essential for religious purposes and how refusal to honor such directives fits within a larger pattern of equity issues in end-of-life care for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Unfortunately, the trial court denied Compassion & Choices' motion to be heard in the matter.
On November 7, 2022, the Supreme Court of the State of New York issued a decision in favor of Ms. Stanley. The Honorable Judge Judy H. Kim ordered that “plaintiff’s motion is granted, and plaintiff is granted summary judgment as to liability in her favor against defendants on her first cause of action, for loss of sepulcher.” Upon completion of discovery, the case will proceed to trial to determine damages owed to Ms. Stanley.