"So You Wanna Be A Coroner? Almost Anybody Can!"
That's the title of a humorous -- and informative -- YouTube video by commentator and comedian Eunice Elliot, who is part of the team at WTVM in Birmingham, Alabama. Her video was inspired by a brief article I wish I could put into the hands of everyone in the U.S. who can read: Leada Gore's "Does it matter if the coroner is a Republican or a Democrat?" at al.com
In Indiana, if a veterinarian takes the job of coroner, the Office of the Attorney General has ruled that "A licensed veterinarian is a 'physician' within the meaning of the statute and is entitled to one and one-half times the base salary for a county coroner." http://www.in.gov/ctb/files/section101.pdf
In Wisconsin, a medical examiner is appointed, a coroner elected. That's the only difference between the two, although some counties have greater restrictions: http://www.waukeshacounty.gov/defaultwc.aspx?id=37208
In many states, there is no requirement of forensic pathology training. Gynecologists, dentists, general practitioners, and others have served as medical examiners.
Autopsies rates in the U.S.A. http://projects.propublica.org/forensics/
Declining autopsy rates affect medicine and public health http://www.amednews.com/article/20120220/health/302209940/4/
Saying coroners and medical examiners work for the dead is a statement of ignorance. (And doubly so for those who add, "The dead don't vote.") The dead don't need anything. The living seek justice on their behalf if they are murdered, but that's also because if someone is running around killing people, the living want to know that. Death certificates help decide how medical research will be funded. They allow families to collect insurance and deal with the estate of the deceased.
Here are just a few additional examples of how their work benefits the living:
Public health -- recognition of health problems and disease outbreaks
Mass disasters -- mass disasters bring about mass fatalities
Safety -- recognizing potentially fatal dangers in the workplace, cribs, toys, amusement parks, in automobiles and elsewhere helps the living
Missing persons -- putting a name to the unidentified dead not only helps the families of the missing, but allows investigators to solve cold cases
5) Death investigation should not be given over to morticians with little or no forensic or medical training, especially if no firm ethics requirements are in place.
Problems arise when there is a conflict of interest and money to be made from the families of the dead. But that's just the beginning. Death investigation cannot be handed off to someone on the basis of having the equipment to do body removal and the stomach handle remains. This is a serious and important matter than affects the justice, safety, and health of living individuals. Certification and accreditation are important, and voters should demand them.
ProPublica Post-Mortem Series http://www.propublica.org/series/post-mortem
The Death Quiz http://crimelabproject.wordpress.com/the-death-quiz/
NPR: Chronic Dysfunction Found in Death Investigations http://www.npr.org/2011/02/08/133595702/chronic-dysfunction-found-in-death-investigations
National Institute of Justice Forensic Death Investigation Symposium http://www.nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/investigations/death-investigation/symposium/Pages/welcome.aspx