This means a specially trained physician, known as a medical examiner, has been assigned to investigate the circumstances surrounding deaths due to unnatural means or natural means requiring further investigation. In most circumstances, the decedent shall be transported to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner for examination. In other instances, it may be possible to do an examination at a hospital or funeral home. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determines the cause and manner of death.
How is the cause and manner of death determined?
A full external and internal examination (autopsy) may be required to determine the cause and manner of death. In other cases, an external examination may be all that is necessary. While the decision to perform an autopsy is determined by the medical examiner, legal next of kin may request an autopsy not be performed. Such requests may be made by calling the OCME Technical Operations Desk at 617-267-6767 ext 101. Doctors may take biological samples such as blood, tissue, organs, and/or other materials to study further in an effort to learn the cause and manner of death. Toxicology testing on some of these samples may be performed if the medical examiner believes that the results may directly affect the determination of cause or manner of death. These tests will not delay the release of the body to the next of kin. However, the results of such testing may take several weeks to finalize. All biological samples that are taken will be disposed of after a matter of time, sometimes weeks, sometimes up to 4 years. You may contact the OCME to request that such materials be released to you through your funeral home. Biological material cannot be released while an investigation is pending.
What should the family expect?
If the decedent has been brought to the OCME, once the medical examiner completes his/her examination, the decedent will be ready for release. In many instances, it will not be necessary for family, friend or next of kin to come to the OCME. The family should contact a funeral director of their choice to handle the arrangements for their loved one. A list of funeral directors is available at www.funeralhomes.com. Once the arrangements have been made, the funeral home will take care of your loved one. In instances of suspicious deaths or cases where the decedent cannot be identified by visual means, the decedent must be identified at the OCME before release. Under these circumstances, the funeral director can assist you with this process. If you have any additional questions, you may call 617-267-6767 ext 400 for assistance.
What if I do not have the resources to make burial arrangements for my loved one or friend?
In these instances, the following resources are available: 1. You may contact a funeral home to request a funeral or burial application through the Department of Transitional Assistance. A funeral director should be able to assist you with this process. 2. You may write a letter to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner stating that you do not have the resources and request the Office of Chief Medical Examiner make arrangements for burial.
How do I obtain reports generated by the OCME?
In all instances, a death certificate is generated. In some cases, the cause and manner of death may be listed as pending until the medical examiner completes his/her studies. Death certificates generated by the OCME must be filed with the city or town clerk where the death occurred. The funeral director can assist you in obtaining a copy or copies of the death certificate.
Autopsy Report and/or Toxicology Reports:
Depending upon the circumstances of the case, an autopsy and/or toxicology report may be available. To request autopsy and/or toxicology reports, the legal next of kin and those with written permission from the next of kin should send a written request to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, 720 Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118.
Is anyone else entitled to the reports generated by the OCME?
A death certificate is a public record. Anyone may obtain a copy of the death certificate at the city or town where the death occurred. As for autopsy reports, in addition to the next of kin or those with written permission from the next of kin, autopsy reports may be issued to a treating physician who has an association with the death, district attorneys and other agencies who need the report in order to complete an investigation into the individual's death, lawyers who are involved in criminal or civil litigation involving the death and insurance companies.
Will the next of kin be charged for any services provided by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner?
There is a cremation authorization fee which is charged and handled through the Funeral Director. There are no other charges to the family for the services of the Medical Examiner.
What happens to the personal property or medication that is brought with the decedent to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner?
The personal property of the deceased is inventoried by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and given to the Funeral Director when the decedent is taken to the funeral home. In some cases, the hospital or police will secure personal property. If a crime is involved with the individual's death, it may be necessary for the police to take possession of some or all of the personal items. Once the investigation is complete, the personal property will be given to the funeral home for return to the next of kin. All medications are inventoried and disposed of by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
Where Can I Find Help?
For assistance you may call the Chief of Staff/Family Liaison at 617-267-6767 ext 218
or a Medical Legal Investigator at 617-267-6767 ext 191, Monday through Friday from 8:30AM to 5 PM.