Some secrets shouldn't be taken to the grave. Unfortunately, that's just what can happen in South Carolina.
The body of a shooting victim can be buried with evidence that might explain what happened, and the autopsy report (which could document that evidence) is secret.
On Wednesday, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that, according to state law, autopsies are medical records and therefore are private.
It's a law that needs to be changed, and state legislators need to make doing so a priority for next session.
Here's why it is important:
The case that led to the Supreme Court ruling involved 25-year-old Aaron Jacobs, who was shot to death by police in 2010.
Initially police said Jacobs fired on officers.
When The Sumter Item requested the autopsy report, the publicly elected coroner refused to release the publicly paid for autopsy, so The Item sued him.
When the newspaper did obtain the autopsy report from a different source, it showed that Mr. Jacobs had no gunshot residue on his hands, and that he had been shot in the back.
Without information from that autopsy, the public might never have learned what happened. The public at large would be justified in questioning whether authorities were more interested in hiding information than in protecting Mr. Jacobs' privacy.
Dennis Fowler, president of the South Carolina Coroner's Association, is happy with the ruling. "An autopsy report describes the internal organs of an individual. That's very private," he said.
But there should be a way to share that information when there is compelling public interest.
For example, Associate Justice Costa Pleicones, the sole dissenter in the Supreme Court decision, pointed out that a coroner could black out medical information not relevant to the case before releasing an autopsy report.
Another law that the Legislature should fix was the subject of a different Supreme Court ruling recently. It said that public meetings aren't required to have agendas, and if they have them, the agendas may be changed at any time during the meetings. There is no way people who are interested in a particular issue can know when to attend.
Until that law is amended, public bodies that want to be transparent can continue to publish agendas in advance and stick to them. The public should take note of which elected officials do so - and which don't.
It will take a distinct change of heart for the Legislature to step up and do the right thing. Bills that would have improved the state's inadequate Freedom of Information Act failed to pass in the 2011-12 and 2013-14 legislative sessions.
Distrust of government is growing nationally. South Carolina this year received a failing grade for the poor access it provides the public to public information.
If people are to have faith in state and local government, the Legislature needs to amend the Freedom of Information law so that it serves to facilitate, not prevent, public access to public information.