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FAQs

 

What is a medical examiner?
Why is the medical examiner involved?
Will an autopsy be performed?
Will I still be able to have an open casket if an autopsy is performed?
Do I have to pay for an autopsy to be done?
Where will my relative/friend be examined?
Is it necessary for me to come to the medical examiner’s office to view the body?
How long will it take before the deceased is released from the medical examiner’s office?
What happens to the clothing and property of the deceased?
When will the autopsy report be available?
Can any organs or tissues be donated for transplant if our family wishes to make an anatomical donation?
What if I cannot afford funeral costs?
My insurance company (or bank) requires a certified copy of the death certificate. Where can I obtain one?

 

Q: What is a medical examiner?

A. A Medical Examiner is a medical doctor, usually a Forensic Pathologist. The Medical Examiner certifies the cause and manner of death, based on his/her expert opinion following an investigation and medical examination. This examination may include an autopsy and laboratory tests such as toxicology. The medical examiner also completes a report and creates a file for each decedent to document his/her findings in a lasting way. The Medical Examiner’s team consists of many other individuals, who assist in various ways with the investigation, administrative tasks, and autopsies; these individuals include Forensic Autopsy Technicians, Forensic Investigators, and other office staff.

 

Q: Why is the Medical Examiner involved?

A. New York State County Law requires that the Medical Examiner investigate the circumstances and determine the cause and manner of all deaths that are or appear to be:

  • A violent death, whether by criminal violence, suicide or casualty;
  • A death caused by unlawful act or criminal neglect;
  • A death occurring in a suspicious, unusual or unexplained manner;
  • A death caused by suspected criminal abortion;
  • A death while unattended by a physician, so far as can be discovered, or where no physician able to certify the cause of death as provided in the public health law and in form as prescribed by the commissioner of health can be found;
  • A death of a person confined in a public institution other than a hospital, infirmary or nursing home.

 Commonly Encountered Reportable Unnatural Deaths

  1. Deaths where a motor vehicle was involved.
  2. Infectious deaths following an injury.
  3. Hip fractures in the elderly.
  4. Deaths where either the result or contributory cause was due to subdural hematoma.
  5. Any death by asphyxiation.
  6. Head injuries with a prolonged hospital course.
  7. Cases where there is uncertainty or inadequate clinical information at the time of admission or death.
  8. Cases transferred from out of the county where there may be inadequate information.
  9. Deaths from conditions directly related to trauma regardless of the passage of time – e.g. death from a seizure disorder that was the result of a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or being struck on the head.

 

Q: Will an autopsy be performed?

A. Autopsies are routinely performed, to determine cause and manner of death, on all cases listed above. Autopsies are not routinely performed on cases in which the deceased has a significant medical history and the death appears to be from natural causes.  However, if a family’s wishes indicate that no autopsy be performed, this office will review the request on a case by case basis.

 

Q: Will I still be able to have an open casket if an autopsy is performed?

A. YES. Autopsies are performed in a manner that does not interfere with viewing of the deceased in a normal case.

 

Q: Do I have to pay for an autopsy to be done?
A. NO. Autopsies performed under the Medical Examiner’s jurisdiction are free of charge. Cases referred to this office from other counties incur fees which are the responsibility of the referring county.

 

Q: Where will my relative/friend be examined?

A. They will be brought to the Medical Examiner’s Office. Our office is located at 100 Elizabeth Blackwell Street in Syracuse, New York, adjacent to University Hospital. The deceased will remain here until the Medical Examiner’s examination of the body is complete.  Upon completion, the deceased will be released to the funeral home selected by the next of kin. Investigation may continue after the release of the body to the funeral director.

The Medical Examiner’s Office is open seven days per week, every day of the year. Our hours are from 8:00 a.m. until 12 midnight; however, routine business should be conducted between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. If you need further assistance, please call (315) 435-3163. In the event of any emergency, a member of our staff can be contacted 24 hours per day by dialing the same number.

 

Q: Is it necessary for me to come to the medical examiner’s office to view the body?

A. NO.  In a majority of cases, visual identification at our office is not required. If visual identification is required, you will be notified by a member of the Medical Examiner’s Office. 

 

Q: How long will it take before the deceased is released from the medical examiner’s office?

A. Depending on the time of day the deceased is received at the Medical Examiner’s Office, they may be released the same day, or the next day. In rare cases of suspicious deaths, or in deaths that require further investigation, the deceased may be held for additional time. It is our goal to release all decedents within 24 hours of arrival. 

 

Q: What happens to the clothing and property of the deceased?
A. The clothing, and all other property, is often turned over to the family at the hospital. If not, these items are brought to the Medical Examiner’s Office with the decedent. These items are then, generally, released to the funeral director to be returned to the family. In some instances, property may have to be retained for evaluation as evidence. If this is the case with respect to your loss, you will be informed accordingly by this office, law enforcement personnel, or your funeral director.

 

Q: When will the autopsy report be available?

A. Autopsy reports are generally available approximately three months from the date of death. Toxicology and other test results often take a significant amount of time to complete. The autopsy report is available to the legal next of kin. Legal next of kin means one of the following, in this order:
                 
SPOUSE/DOMESTIC PARTNER:  Legal spouse/domestic partner of the decedent, whether estranged or separated, but not divorced.

NEXT-OF-KIN: in descending order

  • Decedent’s adult children (excluding step-children)
  • Parents of Decedent
  • Sibling of Decedent (including half-siblings)
  • Sibling of Decedent’s Parents
  • Grandparents of Decedent
  • Issue of Grandparents of Decedent
  • Great-Grandparents of Decedent
  • Issue of Great-Grandparents of Decedent

Reports may be obtained by requesting them in writing and mailing or faxing the signed request to the Medical Examiner’s Office. If you have already signed this form with an investigator from our office, a second request is not necessary.

There is no fee for an autopsy report sent directly to the next of kin. For other recipients, such as insurance companies or attorneys, there is a fee.

 

Q: Can any organs or tissues be donated for transplant if our family wishes to make an anatomical donation?

A. YES.  Organs and other tissues can be harvested from a deceased person if certain medical criteria and time limits are met. Portions of the skin, bone, heart valves, veins, corneas and other tissues can be used for transplant and are harvested by the Central New York Eye and Tissue Bank.

If you choose to participate in the tissue donation program, the Medical Examiner’s Office will make the necessary arrangements for you, and you will be contacted directly by the Central New York Eye and Tissue Bank or other tissue recovery agency involved.

 

Q: What if I cannot afford funeral costs?

A. If you cannot afford funeral costs, advise your Funeral Director of this, and they may be able to get help for you from Social Services, or, if the deceased is a Veteran, from the Veterans Administration. 

 

Q: My insurance company (or bank) requires a certified copy of the death certificate. Where can I obtain one?

A. Death certificates are usually requested during funeral arrangements, with your Funeral Director. For deaths occurring in Onondaga County, copies can also be obtained from the Onondaga County Health Department, Bureau of Vital Statistics, located in Room 20 of the basement level of the John H. Mulroy Civic Center, 421 Montgomery Street, Syracuse, New York, 13202. There is a fee for each copy. They can be reached at (315) 435-3241 if you have any other questions. 

The death certificate is usually issued after the examination is completed. Occasionally, more extensive testing, or investigation, is required, in which case a death certificate with a “Pending” cause and/or manner of death is issued, which allows your family to make immediate funeral arrangements. An amended death certificate will then be issued upon completion of testing and/or investigation. 

If a “Pending” death certificate impacts on insurance settlements, or other estate business, please contact our office, as other arrangements can be made that will satisfy the requirements of most insurance companies.

 

Q: Other questions?

A. If you have further questions, or wish to speak to a member of our office, please feel free to call us at (315) 435-3163.

 
 
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