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Office of the State Medical Examiner Home About the Office of the State Medical Examiner Contact the Office of the State Medical Examiner Frequently Asked Questions Office of the State Medical Examiner Facilities  
 
NJ Medicaid Fraud Control Unit
  Frequently Asked Questions  
 
1.
What Does New Jersey’s Medical Examiner System Do?
2.
What do I do when a family member dies?
3.
What happens during an investigation?
4.
Why are investigations necessary?
5.
What is an autopsy?
6.
How long does an autopsy take?
7.
Will an autopsy delay our funeral arrangements?
8.
Will an autopsy interfere with our desire for a viewing or an open casket funeral?
9.
Is an autopsy always necessary?
10.
What if the family does not want an autopsy?
11.
Does the family pay for any of the medical examiner services?
12.
Must I do anything differently if a baby dies unexpectedly?
13.
Can a medical examiner case be an organ or tissue donor?
14.
Where can I obtain a medical examiner report & death certificate?
15.
Where can I find additional resources and organizations that may provide information, counseling and other services to my family and friends who have suffered the loss of a loved one?
 
 
     
     
     
     
     
     
 

1. What Does New Jersey’s Medical Examiner System Do?

In New Jersey, when a person’s death is unexpected and the cause of death is not immediately known, the death is investigated by a Medical Examiner. The Medical Examiner also investigates deaths that are the result of violence or injury and deaths that occur in legal custody.


2. What do I do when a family member dies?


Call your local emergency number.

The police and emergency personnel will respond. If there is a medical history for chronic disease and there is nothing to suggest any other cause of death, the doctor who was treating the deceased will be contacted. The treating doctor is obliged to pronounce death and to issue an appropriate death certificate. The family can have the body moved to the funeral home of their choice. If a Medical Examiner investigation is warranted, then the body will be taken by the Medical Examiner. Upon conclusion of the Medical Examiner’s investigation, the body may be released to the funeral home of the family’s choice. The family must arrange for the funeral home to contact the appropriate Medical Examiner Office.


3. What happens during an investigation?


The Medical Investigator gathers information from:

  • Family members
  • Witnesses and others
  • Death scene

The investigator works with police in analyzing the death scene and also obtains pertinent medical records. The facts may allow the medical investigator to close the case and refer it to the family physician to sign the death certificate. The circumstances may
require that the body be moved to allow a more detailed examination. This may involve an external examination (viewing) or may involve a complete autopsy.


4. Why are investigations necessary?

Whenever a death occurs under circumstances that raise a public interest, it needs to be explained and its cause and manner determined.

Autopsies are performed for:

  • Public health
  • Public safety
  • Administration of justice

Autopsies identify:

  • Evidence of crime
  • Environmental dangers
  • Work-place and other safety violations
  • Consumer product hazards
  • Public health interests

Unnatural deaths are identified and investigated, leading to proper classification for accidental death benefits. In criminal cases, the investigation provides for proper evidence identification and
collection, leading to successful apprehension and criminal prosecution.


5. What is an autopsy?


An autopsy is an external and internal examination of a body. Licensed physicians, specifically forensic pathologists, acting as medical examiners, will perform forensic autopsies to determine cause and manner of death. After examination, the body is closed. Specimens of body fluids and tissues are retained for diagnostic testing however and, where necessary, an organ, such as the brain or heart, may also be retained for further tests.

None of these tests will prevent the body from being released to the family for funeral arrangements and the autopsy will not interfere with funeral viewing. If organs were held for further testing and should you desire the return of organs after testing, you should advise the office that performed the autopsy of this request. Otherwise, within a reasonable period, the specimens and/or organs will be handled consistent with standard practice.


6. How long does an autopsy take?


A standard forensic autopsy will take about two to three hours.


7. Will an autopsy delay our funeral arrangements?


Complicated cases may take longer than 2-3 hours, but in most cases, should not delay usual funeral arrangements. After the autopsy, the body is released to the funeral home. The funeral home prepares the body for viewing.


8. Will an autopsy interfere with our desire for a viewing or an open casket funeral?


No. An autopsy does not necessarily preclude a viewing. The funeral home can prepare the body for viewing. The surgical incisions which are closed are appropriately covered. However, it may not be possible to restore any post-mortem changes which
occur naturally when a person is not found until hours or days after death. Any severe prior injuries may make the body un-viewable and may require a closed casket funeral.


9. Is an autopsy always necessary?


No. However, in some circumstances, an autopsy is mandated by law. In other circumstances, the medical examiner may determine an autopsy is necessary to identify the cause and manner of death.

The law requires an autopsy in deaths:

  • Involving a homicide
  • Occuring under unusual circumstances
  • Posing a threat to public health
  • Involving inmates in prison
  • Where children die unexpectedly

An autopsy enables a Medical Examiner to obtain important evidence about the cause and manner of the person’s death that could not be otherwise obtained.


10. What if the family does not want an autopsy?


The Medical Examiner autopsy, unlike a hospital autopsy, does not require permission from the next of kin. It is done under statutory authority. If the family has a religious objection to the autopsy, the
Medical Examiner will make every effort to limit the procedure as far as possible. If the Medical Examiner does determine that a full autopsy is necessary to fulfill public responsibility, the family may present their objection to a court of law for consideration before
the autopsy is undertaken.


11. Does the family pay for any of the medical examiner services?


No. Families pay nothing for any of the Medical Examiner services. The family only pays the funeral home the cost of its services, including transportation of the body from the Medical Examiner’s Office to the funeral home.


12. Must I do anything differently if a baby dies unexpectedly?


No. You will be provided with additional services following this tragic event. The major cause of death in babies from one month to one year of age is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). There is no known cause of SIDS. A diagnosis of SIDS is made when the
sudden death of an infant remains unexplained even after a thorough investigation is undertaken. The investigation includes an autopsy, an examination of the death scene, and a review of the medical history. Once the Medical Examiner has made a preliminary finding of SIDS as the cause of death, state law requires that the SIDS Center of NJ be notified of the death. The center provides counseling and bereavement services to the family which has suffered this tragic loss. You may contact the SIDS Center of NJ at their Hotline 800-545-7437.


13. Can a medical examiner case be an organ or tissue donor?

Yes. The Medical Examiner’s office works closely with organ procurement agencies. If the family wishes to donate organs or tissue, they need to give permission which can be done by calling 800-SHARE-NJ (800-742-7365). The Medical Examiner will consider the family’s desire, the needs of the procurement agency, and the need to preserve vital evidence in criminal cases.


14. Where can I obtain a medical examiner report & death certificate?


When a case is investigated by the Medical Examiner, an autopsy report and Report of Investigation by the Medical Examiner may be created. If permitted by law in the individual case, these documents can be obtained by writing to the County Medical Examiner Office in the county where the person was pronounced dead. A small fee for copies may be charged. Reports generally take from eight to twelve weeks to be finalized but may take longer depending on the circumstances and the need for specialized testing. Death Certificates are issued by the local Municipal or County Registrar or the State Registrar of the Health Department. The Medical Examiner is not able to provide death certificates.


15. Where can I find additional resources and organizations that may provide information, counseling and other services to my family and friends who have suffered the loss of a loved one?

Please see our resources page.

 
   
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