You receive a call from the funeral home. There is reason to believe your family member died an accidental death, and the medical examiner would like to do an autopsy. Should you consent to releasing your loved one’s body for autopsy by the medical examiner? This is no easy decision, so it is important that you gather as much information as possible and weigh the pros and cons of a medical examiner autopsy.
Who is the Medical Examiner?
The M.E. office, also referred to as the coroner’s office, is usually a county-run public office. The Medical Examiner is a government employed doctor. If you allow your family member to be autopsied by the Medical Examiner, you will not have to pay anything. This is done at the expense of the Medical Examiner’s office.
Why Would the M.E. Want to do an Autopsy?
An autopsy is recommended anytime the Medical Examiner feels the death may be accidental. Even if the person is 90 years old with a major heart condition, if the death was due to an accident, like a fall, the M.E. will likely request an autopsy.
The Pros of Allowing the Medical Examiner to do an Autopsy
If you allow the autopsy to go forward, you will eventually receive a long form death certificate which lists your loved one’s cause(s) of death. This will give you the benefit of knowing how and why your family member died. If the death was accidental, the death certificate will be the key piece of evidence in a potential wrongful death lawsuit.
The Cons of Allowing an Autopsy by the Medical Examiner
The downsides to an autopsy include the potential inability to do an open casket funeral, and certain religions do not recommend autopsy.
Questions + Answers Regarding Medical Examiner Autopsies
Will I have to be present during the autopsy?
Absolutely not. In fact, most family members only want to learn the results of the autopsy, not the specifics of the autopsy act.
Who gave the information to the Medical Examiner’s office? Why do they think this was an accidental death?
Probably your family member’s doctors, or the medical personnel at the hospital.
Do most deaths receive an autopsy request from the Medical Examiner?
No. The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths do not receive any attention from the M.E. office. This is more reason to allow the M.E. office to investigate, as there is a strong likelihood of a preventable death.
Do I have to be involved in the transportation to the M.E. autopsy?
No. The Medical Examiner will coordinate with the funeral home and transfer your loved one’s body at their expense.
The Takeaway on a Tough Autopsy Decision
You ultimately have to do what you feel is right in your heart. However, if the state authorities believe your loved one suffered an accidental death, you likely should investigate why they died under suspicious circumstances. This inevitably involves allowing the Medical Examiner to perform his/her autopsy.
If you have further questions on whether or not to allow an autopsy, or questions on a potential wrongful death civil claim, contact our experienced wrongful death attorneys today to learn more about your rights.
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