Autopsies aren’t that common these days like they used to be. Back in the 1950s, around half of all hospital deaths had an autopsy afterward. Many of the autopsies were performed so that medical students and doctors could study diseases.
These days autopsies are generally only performed when there is some kind of unknown surrounding the death, and it isn’t a medical student taking the lead. One of the most common questions about autopsies is whether they are performed by a coroner or a medical examiner.
As with many things in the funeral industry, the quick answer is, it depends on your location. Every jurisdiction defines the roles and responsibilities of each position. That said, there are some norms that apply to most places.
Medical Examiners (Usually) Perform Autopsies
Today, a medical examiner that’s employed by the county or local jurisdiction performs autopsies. Coroners don’t always have medical training, but medical examiners do. They are also trained in forensic pathology. This gives them the unique knowledge needed to determine how a person died, the manner in which they died and even the circumstances surrounding the death.
When an autopsy is performed as part of an investigation it’s known as a medicolegal autopsy. It’s not uncommon for a medical examiner to provide their expert testimony in a trial. They will break down for the jury how they came to their conclusions by performing an autopsy and analyzing lab tests, toxicology reports, etc.
How many autopsies a year a medical examiner performs is highly dependent on the location. Some medical examiners only perform a few autopsies a month, whereas the maximum number that’s recommended is 250 autopsies a year. During and after the pandemic the workload of medical examiners dramatically increased. It’s caused a shortage in medical examiners around the U.S.
What About Coroners?
The coroner plays more of a supportive role in the whole post mortem process. They identify the body, arrange transport and sign death certificates. They don’t typically have the medical expertise needed to carry out forensic pathology work, however in some areas the coroner does perform autopsies.
Many consider coroners to be an outdated profession that is being replaced by medical examiners that are qualified to do more. In fact, many jurisdictions have been transferring from a coroner system to a medical examiner system.
If you need to arrange a direct cremation while an autopsy is being performed our team can help. We’ll work with the local coroner’s office to handle all of the formalities as soon as possible. Call or text us any time for personal assistance.