ENGLEWOOD, Fla. (WFLA) – Family members of Phyllis Williams Izzo, who passed away last month at the age of 76, are dealing with the unthinkable. No one will sign the death certificate, so her body remains at a funeral home.
“I wake up in the morning and I cry,” said niece Tamela McClish. “I’m thinking I’m in this comfortable bed, and she’s in a cold freezer.”
As if that’s not enough anguish, the family can’t do practical things like wrap up Izzo’s financial affairs.
“There’s all kinds of things we need a death certificate for,” McClish said. “We can’t even turn in her leased vehicle without a death certificate.”
The family turned to Better Call Behnken for help after getting nowhere with authorities when the doctor refused to sign the death certificate.
According to the Florida Department of Health, Izzo’s family physician, Dr. Charles Eagar of Englewood, is legally required to sign the death certificate.
McClish said the doctor and Charlotte County Medical Examiner blame each other. The day after Investigative Reporter Shannon Behnken got involved, the Bureau of Vital Statistics sent the doctor a letter telling him he is “obligated to sign” and that “the law requires physicians to certify the cause of death to the best of their knowledge.”
Dr. Eagar told Better Call Behnken he’s not comfortable signing. He said he has signed hundreds of death certificates in his career and this is the first time he has refused to sign one.
“The doctor needs the cause of the death and if I don’t have the cause of the death for any patient, I can’t write the certificate,” he said.
Eagar said he wants something in writing either from law enforcement or the medical examiner’s office stating that they believe the cause of death to be natural. Eagar expressed concern that he did not see the body himself and doesn’t want to be held legally responsible if he states the wrong cause of death.
Spokespeople for law enforcement and the medical examiner’s office said they declined to investigate further because there were no signs of homicide or suicide. Medical records were reviewed and they said all signs point to natural death.
In that case, Florida law requires a doctor who saw the patient in the past 12 months – in this case, Dr. Eagar – to sign the death certificate. He was required to do within 72 hours of the death.
The next step for the family is to wait to see if Dr. Eagar changes his mind after receiving the formal letter with the state. If he does not, he could face enforcement action from the state against his medical license.
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