Direct Cremate

What Does a Medical Examiner Do?
Have you ever wondered what the job of a medical examiner entails? Find out what medical examiners do when they aren’t performing autopsies.
Medical Examiner
Closeup of African American specialist doctor with stethoscope working at medical treatment in hospital office.

When someone dies a number of people become involved with the body disposition and registering the death. Even if you have dealt with the death of a close loved one before, the process isn’t always the same depending on how the person died. Sometimes a medical examiner is asked to take a closer look at how the death occurred. 

Keep reading to learn how a medical examiner goes about determining the cause of death and when their expertise is needed. 

The Job of a Medical Examiner: Autopsies, Investigations and More

A medical examiner is a physician with training in forensic pathology that’s qualified to perform autopsies. They’re often confused with coroners but are actually pathologists. Their primary objective is to determine a cause and manner of death based on autopsy results and other evidence. 

Investigative Duties of Medical Examiners

What many people don’t realize is that many medical examiners are true detectives. They work within a specified jurisdiction with the authorities to examine:

  • The individual’s medical history.
  • Physical evidence from the autopsy.
  • Crime scene pictures and evidence. 
  • Pathology and toxicology reports.
  • The results of laboratory tests.
  • Pathology specimen. 

The medical examiner is expected to evaluate all of the evidence and provide their medical expertise to help determine if a serious crime was committed. It can take a fair amount of sleuth work for a medical examiner to figure out what caused a person to die. They may even go out to the crime scene to look at things firsthand. And it’s not uncommon for medical examiners to be called to the witness stand to give their expert testimony in a trial. 

A medical examiner isn’t needed after every death. Today, autopsies are only performed for XX% deaths. An autopsy is typically needed only if:

  • The death is unexpected or sudden.
  • No one was present when the person died.
  • Suicide is suspected.
  • The death was violent.
  • There are suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.

In some cases, a medical examiner can make a determination of the cause and manner of death without performing an autopsy. For example, if the death is believed to be from suicide the medical examiner may be able to verify that by reviewing the medical history and existing evidence. It’s also possible for a medical examiner to decline performing an autopsy if the preliminary review reveals the cause of death. 

However, in some jurisdictions a medical examiner must give their approval before a cremation can take place regardless of whether the death was investigated or not.

Admin Duties of Medical Examiners

Once the medical examiner has determined the cause and manner of death, they must then create a report that details their findings. The report will note the cause and manner of death, outline the person’s medical history and the results of all tests that were performed. In some states, the medical examiner is also the person who signs the death certificate.


Direct Cremate is sensitive to the fact that some deaths involve additional stressors that can be difficult to deal with. Choosing direct cremation simplifies funeral arrangements and allows the family to focus on getting other matters settled. Call today to learn about arranging direct cremation services.

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