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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an autopsy and why might one be performed?

What if I object to an autopsy due to religious beliefs?

Who is considered the next-of-kin?

Why was my loved one’s body brought to the Medical Examiner’s Office?

What about organ donations?

When/where will I be able to view my loved one’s body?

What will happen to my loved one’s personal items? How can I get them?

Will I be notified of the results of the investigation and examination?

What does it mean when a case is pending?

If the family cannot afford to bury a loved one, where do they turn for assistance?

Answers


What is an autopsy and why might one be performed?

An autopsy is an specialized examination of a body both externally and internally.  The primary purpose of an autopsy is to determine the cause and manner of death of the decedent and to document injuries, disease processes, collect evidence,  and the state of the body The autopsy is generally performed at the discretion of the medical examiner and serves the best interests of the public, and of the family, by answering a multitude\ of pressing questions. Autopsies are often performed and required to fulfill legal, medical, and public role and responsibility.

What if I object to an autopsy due to religious beliefs?

The medical examiner has the authority of Tennessee law to order an autopsy. If the family has objections to an autopsy, the legal next-of-kin should discuss their concerns with the medical examiner.  We will try to accommodate families wishes to the best of our ability while also making NOK aware of the limitations of answers when an autopsy is not performed.

Who is considered the next-of-kin?

Legal next of kin is spelled out in Tennessee Law (need to verify).  Generally speaking, if a person is married at the time of death, their spouse is the legal next-of-kin. This is true even if the spouse has been estranged. If there is no spouse, the order of succession is: adult child, parent, adult siblings, adult grandchildren, and grandparents.  If there are disagreements between two family members who are equally NOK, a hold will be placed on the remains until the family members come to an agreement, or our office receives a court order directing us to release the remains to a particular funeral home.

Why was my loved one’s body brought to the Medical Examiner’s Office?

The law requires that the medical examiner investigate sudden, violent, and unexpected deaths, as well as suspicious, unusual, or deaths of unnatural manners. The medical examiner’s responsibility is to determine a cause or manner of death. A body may also be brought to the MEO if the identity of the deceased or the next of kin is unknown.

What about organ donations?

The MEO supports the efforts of the community to promote organ and tissue donations whenever possible. Staff will help coordinate with the personnel of the organ bank to maximize the chance of organ and tissue recovery.

When/where will I be able to view my loved one’s body?

Funeral homes are best equipped to accommodate viewings.

What will happen to my loved one’s personal items? How can I get them?

Any personal items that are transported to our office with the body will be made available to the next of kin. Occasionally, we may need to coordinate with law enforcement before personal items are released. 

Will I be notified of the results of the investigation and examination?

The MEO will not notify loved ones once the investigation and/or examination is complete. The NOK may call the office to submit a request for the final autopsy report.

What does it mean when a case is pending?

In certain cases, laboratory studies and further investigations are needed to determine the cause and/or manner of death. While a time frame cannot be established on when this type of case will be complete, each is handled independently. However, this does not prevent the body from being released within 24 – 48 hours of the examination.

If the family cannot afford to bury a loved one, where do they turn for assistance?

If a body is unclaimed, the expense of burial is to be paid from the the sale of property found with the body, or, if there is none, from the county treasury. Honorably discharged veterans may be interred by the Department of Veterans Services.

Last Published: Mar 12, 2021