Brief Supports Woman’s Claim that NYC Medical Examiner’s Office Discriminated Against Her Late Transgender Muslim Partner

December 1, 2021
Shawn Frederick with partner Nakemia Stanley

Shawn Frederick with partner Nakemia Stanley

Compassion & Choices filed an amicus brief late Tuesday to support a lawsuit, Stanley v City of New York, claiming New York City violated a transgender Muslim man’s advance directive about how to dispose of his remains. The suit alleges that the state’s failure to follow his directive caused his pregnant partner so much distress that she miscarried twins.

Before his death, a transgender Muslim man, Shawn Frederick, properly completed the New York State Department of Health form assigning control of the disposition of his remains to his pregnant partner, Nakemia Stanley, rather than his biological family, who refused to accept his gender identity or conversion to Islam. While city officials did not contest the validity of the directive, they nonetheless failed to honor it by releasing Mr. Frederick’s body to his biological family, whom as he feared, used his deadname (i.e., birth name), misgendered him, and arranged for an open casket funeral service and Christian burial.

It was only after Ms. Stanley implored city officials, that they retrieved Mr. Frederick’s body and returned it to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where it was held for almost a month, despite Ms. Stanley’s constant requests to release the body to her. During this ordeal, Ms. Stanley, eight months pregnant and overwhelmed by stress, went into early labor and ended up miscarrying twins.

“New York City officials violated Mr. Frederick’s explicit instructions for his disposition—as well as his bodily autonomy and religious beliefs—key protections enshrined in federal and New York law. Transgender people’s bodily autonomy is under constant attack everywhere, but we expect better from one of the world’s most diverse cities, especially regarding honoring people’s end-of-life directives,” said Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices.

Compassion & Choices is a national nonprofit advocacy group that works to empower patients’ voice and agency in end-of-life care, regardless of gender identity, age, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, wealth, marital status, or disability.

“Honoring a deceased person’s preferred disposition and burial rituals provides comfort to the living, assuring that our own final wishes will be fulfilled. In Islam, burial must take place as quickly as possible after death—preferably within 24 hours,”  said David B. Bassett, a Senior Partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP based in New York City is the local counsel for Compassion & Choices. “Sadly, in this case, Ms. Stanley was forced to wait nearly a full month to lay Mr. Frederick to rest. Meanwhile, she lived in anguish, knowing that his dying wishes were being violated.”

The lawsuit claims city officials violated her Right to Sepulcher, a 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. Compassion & Choices submitted an amicus brief to alert the Court of the importance and implications of strictly adhering to an individual’s end-of-life directives.

“We all deserve a dignified death that honors our values, our beliefs, and our identities,” said Amitai Heller, senior staff attorney for Compassion & Choices. “Refusing to promptly honor Disposition of Remains directives not only undermines a person’s end-of-life decisions; it also creates uncertainty for those undergoing the dying process and for their surviving loved ones.”

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