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SPRINGFIELD – Last April, a man named Elisha Brittman was found naked and unresponsive under a car in Chicago, beaten so badly his face was unrecognizable. The police failed to identify him through fingerprints or DNA. Instead, they used a mugshot to identify him as Alfonso Bennett. In turn, the hospital notified Bennett’s family, who decided to take Brittman off life support. Now, both of the families involved are filing a lawsuit.

After learning of what happened to her constituent, Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago) is leading an effort to make sure no other family is ever faced with such an unthinkable situation.

“Hospitals must make life or death decisions every day, but they must take every possible precaution in cases like this. Though the misidentification was the fault of the police, Mercy shouldn’t have notified the family until they were absolutely sure,” Van Pelt said. “That is why I’m sponsoring legislation to prevent things like this from happening in the future.”

The measure would provide hospitals with a procedure in cases when they come across unidentifiable patients. Such efforts may include filing a missing person report for the unidentified patient, fingerprinting, or even sending identifying materials to local media. If the hospital receives a claim from a possible family member, a voluntary DNA test would be conducted.

This legislation, which just passed the Senate Public Health Committee, is Senate Bill 2309 (aka the Elisha Brittman law). It awaits consideration on the Senate floor.