Call the 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 obligated to issue an appropriate death certificate, and 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 notify the funeral home to contact the appropriate Medical Examiner Office.

In New Jersey, each County has a County Medical Examiner’s Office however some offices have combined services and operate jointly out of one office. For information, please contact the Medical Examiner’s Office in the county where the person was pronounced deceased.

The Medicolegal Death Investigator gathers information from family members, police, witnesses, and any others that may be associated with or have pertinent information about the deceased. The Investigator works with police in analyzing the death scene and also obtains medical records from attending physicians. If there is a medical history for chronic disease/illness and there is nothing to suggest any other cause of death, the Investigator may release the case and refer it to the treating/attending physician to sign the death certificate. The treating/attending physician is obligated to pronounce death and to fill out the medical portion of the death certificate. At this time, the family should contact the funeral home of their choice. If the case falls under the Medical Examiner’s jurisdiction, then the body will be taken to the Medical Examiner’s facility. Upon conclusion of the Medical Examiner’s investigation and examination, 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’s Office for release.

An autopsy is an external and internal examination of a body. Licensed physicians, specifically forensic pathologists acting as medical examiners, will perform an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death. After examination, the body is closed and specimens of body fluids and tissues are retained for diagnostic testing. When necessary, organs such as the brain or heart, may also be retained for further testing. None of these procedures will prevent the body from being released to the family for the funeral or final disposition. 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.

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
  • Occurring under unusual circumstances
  • Posing a threat to public health
  • When children die unexpectedly
  • Involving inmates in prison (without prior medical documentation of history)
  • 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.

    A standard forensic autopsy will take about 2 hours; however, the circumstances of the death may lengthen or shorten that timeframe.

    No. The family can make funeral arrangements at their convenience. Complicated autopsies may take longer than 2 hours but after the autopsy, the body can be released to the funeral home. Only in rare cases are bodies held for legal purposes. When possible, the release of the remains may be expedited in order to honor the religious, cultural, or other beliefs of the family.

    No. In most cases, the funeral director can prepare the body for a viewing. The autopsy incisions, which are closed, can be appropriately covered. In some cases, it may not be possible to restore any post-mortem changes that occur naturally or if there were severe injuries that caused the death. The family should speak with their funeral director to make those decisions.

    The Medical Examiner autopsy, unlike a hospital autopsy, does not require permission from the Next-of-kin, as the autopsy is performed under statutory authority. If the family has a religious objection to the autopsy, the family can sign an objection form and the Medical Examiner will make every effort to limit the procedure as much as possible.

    No. The family does not pay for the services of the Medical Examiner office. The family should discuss funeral-related expenses with the funeral home of their choice.

    Yes. The Medical Examiner offices work closely with organ procurement agencies. If the family wishes to donate organs or tissues, they need to give permission to the procurement agency. The Medical Examiner will consider the family’s wishes, the needs of the procurement agency, and the need to preserve vital evidence in criminal cases.

    Unless identified as evidence by the investigating law enforcement agency, all clothing and personal items that are brought in to the Medical Examiner’s office on the body are released with the body to the funeral home. Items identified as evidence are retained by the investigating law enforcement agency and the family should contact the appropriate agency for the release.

    When a case is investigated by the Medical Examiner’s office, a Report of Investigation by Medical Examiner (RIME) is generated and if an exam was performed, an autopsy report or external examination report shall be generated. Reports are not automatically sent out, as many families do not want to receive copies of the reports. If permitted by law, reports can be obtained by writing to the County Medical Examiner office and requesting a copy of the report. A small fee for copies may be charged. Death certificates are issued by the local Municipality, County or State Registrar. Certified copies of the death certificate can be obtained by the family through their funeral director or by directly contacting the registrar.

    No. Matters concerning physicians are under the jurisdiction of the Board of Medical Examiners. Contact information for the Board may be found online at https://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/bme/Pages/contactus.aspx or by calling (609) 826- 7100.