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Monday, February 20, 2017

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do I do now that a family member’s death is being investigated by the medical examiner?

If you are the legal next of kin responsible for any funeral arrangements or disposition decisions for the person being examined by the medical examiner, please contact the funeral director of your choice and tell that director that the body is at the medical examiner’s office.  If no contact has been made within 24 hours of the examination of the decedent, the body may be released to a funeral home on a rotational schedule maintained by the office of the medical examiner.

Do I need to come to the medical examiner’s office to identify the deceased?

Identification of decedents is a shared responsibility of law enforcement and the medical examiner. Typically law enforcement will make the necessary inquiries. Fingerprints are typically obtained on all persons above the age of 8 years unless prints are not obtainable. Family members may not view bodies at the office of the medical examiner owing to lack of appropriate facilities to accommodate this. Family members are encouraged to contact the funeral home of their choice and at the discretion of the funeral director viewing may or may not be done at the funeral home.

What if I disagree with the determination(s) by the medical examiner?

Arizona law permits rulings by the medical examiner to be officially disputed. If you are disputing the findings of the medical examiner please contact the office and communicate your concerns. If, after communicating with the office, you are still not satisfied you may obtain a court ordered second opinion. All information and materials upon which the initial ruling was made will be made available to another forensic pathologist for his/her independent review.

If I have religious objections to an autopsy what are my options?

The decision of whether or not to autopsy a decedent in the course of investigating that death is solely that of the medical examiner. If there are objections to an autopsy these may be communicated to the medical examiner, and every effort will be made to minimize the autopsy examination, however the decision will remain that of the medical examiner.

Where do I obtain a copy of the death certificate?

The medical examiner’s office certifies the deaths it examines but does not issue death certificates. Death certificates are registered locally and recorded and filed at the Arizona State Department of Health Services Vital Records located in Phoenix, AZ. Your funeral director can assist you in obtaining the copies that you may require.

When should I expect completion of a PENDING case investigation?

When a cause of death is left pending it is typically because of ongoing testing or examination. These may include special examination by other specialists such as neuropathologists, toxicologists, etc. It is the goal of the Yavapai County Office of the Medical Examiner to complete any pending cause-of-death case within 45 days of initial examination. Upon completion of testing and removal of a death investigation from the pending list, a Supplementary Death Certificate will be issued. No reports will be issued by the office until a pending case is cleared.

What expectations of privacy are accorded a decedent?

Any death investigation by the medical examiner is intrinsically a matter of public inquiry, and any reports of that investigation are public record. Whenever there is ongoing investigation of a death by law enforcement, and where information contained in a report may be considered sensitive to that investigation, the law enforcement agency may request a court order to seal a case. In general the medical examiner will release name and cause and manner of death information to the media upon request. Otherwise details of a case are reserved for the official reports.

Why was the medical examiner involved in a natural death that was certified by the attending physician?

If a body is to be cremated it is the responsibility of the medical examiner to review the death certificate to assure that the manner of death was reported as natural. If the manner is anything other than natural, the body of the deceased should be examined prior to cremation so that no potential evidence is lost.

What is an autopsy? Will it interfere with possible funeral viewing?

An autopsy is the formal surgical examination of a deceased person to document external and internal evidences of injury and illness, and collect appropriate specimens for further indicated testing to determine the cause of death. If a body was viewable prior to autopsy it will still be viewable following an autopsy.

Will there be extra charges to the family for the autopsy?

Any autopsy examination conducted under the auspices of the medical examiner is a public expense. There are no charges to the family for that examination.

When will the body be available for release to the funeral home?

Upon completion of the examination by the medical examiner the body will be ready for release. Releases are made daily Monday through Friday between the hours of 10:00am and 4:00PM.

Mark Fischione, MD

Chief Medical Examiner

Primary Business Address:
7100 B North County Fair Trail
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314
Phone: (928) 771-3163
Fax: (928) 771-3504
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