CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says is concerned about plans by the county Medical Examiner to donate unclaimed bodies for medical research after only two weeks in the morgue.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, the plans came in an agreement between the Medical Examiner’s office and the Anatomic Gift Association, which releases the bodies to medical schools for teaching and research, in accordance with state law.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

The new protocol was deemed “effective immediately” in a memo late last month from Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones.

The office says bodies will go to the AGA two weeks after relatives say they can’t afford the cost of burial, or when the bodies have gone unclaimed for two weeks. This has happened five times in the last year.

But Dart’s office indicated two weeks may not be enough time to allow identification and relative notification, and Dart said the new policy shifts the burden for that responsibility.

“The Medical Examiner’s memo assumed the sheriff will do the body identification or relative location,” he said. “The concern is that instead of using the Medical Examiner’s team of investigators to investigate the handful of unknown indigent cases, this policy shifts that work to local law enforcement.”

Dart says he’s happy to help the Medical Examiner’s office, “but no one’s ever told us: ‘Well, you need to track these families down. You need to let them know they have to weeks.’ I mean come on, let’s be real here. So I mean, this is something where it definitely needs to be well thought-out.

He adds that says smaller police departments will have even more trouble identifying unclaimed bodies or locating relatives.

Dart expects an uptick in indigent burials because of the bad economy.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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