Frequently Asked Questions
What is a medical examiner?
A medical examiner is a medical doctor authorized by law to investigate sudden, unexplained deaths. The ultimate responsibility of the medical examiner is to determine the cause and manner of death which is recorded on a death certificate.
What is a medical-legal death investigator?
A medical-legal death investigator (or MDI) is trained to assist the medical examiner by responding to the scene where a death has occurred. MDI's are often referred to as the "eyes and ears" of the medical examiner, and can assist by documenting the body, photographing the scene, identifying evidence, and gathering information such as medical history or witness statements.
What is an autopsy?
An autopsy, also called a postmortem examination, is a procedure performed on the body by a forensic pathologist to determine a cause of death. Autopsies are similar to a surgical procedure and are completed by making an incision into the body to examine the vital organs. The goal of an autopsy is to document any injuries or diseases that may be present. Other aspects of an autopsy may include toxicology testing, histology (microscopic examination), trace evidence collection, and other specialized testing as determined by the physician. There is no cost for an autopsy which has been ordered by the medical examiner.
Does having an autopsy mean that I can't have a viewing for my loved one?
No. An autopsy will not prevent a viewing and in no way interferes with families who choose to have an open-casket funeral. A funeral director can discuss your options in terms of accommodating viewings and open casket services.
Where can I arrange to view my loved one?
Viewings can be arranged at your funeral home. The Medical Examiner's Office is not designed to accommodate viewings.
How long does an autopsy take?
Typically, autopsies are completed within 24-36 hours after death. The final report, however, may not be available for several months depending on the scope and nature of testing ordered by the forensic pathologist. Active criminal cases will typically be withheld from public release until the trial and sentencing have been completed.
What is the importance of performing an autopsy in someone in whom the cause of death is "obvious"?
In the case of homicides or other criminal cases, the forensic pathologist may recover bullets or other important trace evidence which can assist in the prosecution of criminal acts. In the case of motor vehicle crashes, it may be necessary to determine which, if any, of the injuries were fatal in nature. Autopsies can also assess other driver factors, vehicle factors or environmental factors that might have caused or contributed to the crash. In other cases, the cause of death may be clear, but the manner of death is unknown, such as an accident versus a homicide. In these cases, intricate details documented during the autopsy may prove to be useful in learning the circumstances which ultimately led to the death of an individual.
Do I have to consent to an autopsy?
In the State of Oregon, by law, the medical examiner is the only person who can order a forensic autopsy to be performed. While family wishes and religious beliefs will certainly be taken into consideration, some cases may require an autopsy based on the recommendation of the medical examiner. If the medical examiner does not perform an autopsy, the family may choose to have a private autopsy completed at their own cost. A funeral director may be able to assist you with arranging a private autopsy preformed by a local doctor.
Where do I obtain a death certificate?
Death certificates can be obtained from your funeral director or from the Oregon Health Authority Vital Records Department. Please be aware that as of 2018, death certificates cost $25 for each copy and are only available to family members or legally interested parties (i.e. lawyers, insurance agencies, etc.).
My loved one was an organ or tissue donor. Can they still be a donor if they were referred to the medical examiner?
Cases which are under investigation by the medical examiner require authorization prior to any organ or tissue donation. In order for donation to occur, a family member or power of attorney must also consent. Organ and tissue donation will be evaluated and approved on a case by case basis as determined by the physician medical examiner.
I'm not sure if I can afford funeral expenses. What assistance is available?
Consult with your funeral director about payment plans or other options available. There may also be assistance available through your loved one's employer, union organization, or through the Veteran's Administration if they ever served in the military. You can look at several options for additional assistance by clicking here.