NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner

Frequently Asked Questions

People who come to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner ("OCME") to make an identification often have questions about procedures. This has been prepared to answer some of the questions that may arise.

The frequently asked questions and answers are also available in Chinese, Russian and Spanish (in pdf ).

1. Why is a body brought to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner?
2. Why must the body of the deceased person be identified?
3. What is the Identification Procedure?
4. How long is the wait to make an identification?
5. What is an autopsy?
6. Why might an autopsy be performed?
7. How will the body be released?
8. How is a funeral director selected?
9. Where is the deceased's personal property held?
10. How do I obtain a copy of the death certificate?
11. How can I obtain a copy of the Autopsy Report?

 

1. Why is a body brought to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner?

Bodies of deceased persons are brought to this office because the law requires that the Chief Medical Examiner investigate deaths of persons dying from criminal violence, by accident, by suicide, suddenly when in apparent health, when unattended by a physician, in a correctional facility, or in any suspicious or unusual manner. The medical examiner is responsible for determining the cause and manner of death.

A body also may be brought to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner if the identity of the deceased or of the next of kin is unknown. The body is retained by this office for a reasonable period of time before interment at City Cemetery or until the next of kin can be located by the Police Department and identification established and funeral arrangements made.

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2. Why must the body of the deceased person be identified?

Identification is necessary in order to establish that the person reported to OCME as having died is, in fact, that person, and to complete the certificate of death.

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3. What is the Identification Procedure?

The person making the identification first will be asked to give certain information about him/herself as well as about the deceased person. Once the information has been recorded, the identifying person will view a photograph of the deceased person (taken at OCME) in order to complete the identification process. As a general rule, the photograph is of the face only; occasionally, it will be of a mark such as a tattoo or scar.

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4. How long is the wait to make an identification?

You will be seen by a member of the Identification staff as soon as reasonably possible. The Identification Unit operates seven days a week:

Monday - Friday 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Saturday, Sunday, & holidays 8:00 am - 3:00 pm

(See Contact OCME for locations and telephone numbers.)

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5. What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a systematic examination of the body of a deceased person by a qualified pathologist. Performance of an autopsy does not interfere with having the body on view at the funeral. The body is inspected for the presence of disease or injury; specimens of the vital organs and/or body fluids may be taken for microscopic, chemical, or other tests. In some instances, an organ such as a brain or heart may be retained for further diagnostic tests. These diagnostic tests are conducted after release of the body to the next of kin. After the body is released to next of kin, a family may contact the Office of Chief Medical Examiner to request the return of any organs and/or tissue specimens.

A written record is made of the autopsy findings including the microscopic and laboratory tests, and the reports of consultants. Copies of these reports are available upon request by next of kin or other authorized individuals.

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6. Why might an autopsy be performed?

Autopsies are conducted for a variety of reasons. The primary concern is to determine cause and manner of death. Did the death result from disease, injury, a combination of both, or another cause altogether? When death results from chemical agents, the autopsy permits us to obtain biological samples for testing in the laboratory, and to evaluate the effects of the chemical agents on vital organs. When death results from physical injuries, the autopsy frequently provides a means to reconstruct the fatal incident. The autopsy serves the best interests of the public, and of the family, by answering a multitude of pressing and important questions.

When the next of kin objects to an autopsy, OCME makes every effort to honor that objection. However, if we cannot fulfill our legal and public responsibility without performing an autopsy, if the family has raised a viable religious objection (i.e., based on Judaism, Islam, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witness, or 7th Day Adventist) they will be provided an opportunity to hire an attorney, if they desire, and to present their objection to a Judge who will determine whether an autopsy will be performed. Objections to autopsy which are not based on religious beliefs have no standing in the law.

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7. How will the body be released?

By law, the medical examiner may release a body only to a New York State licensed funeral director. Once identification is completed, you should notify your funeral director who, in turn, will arrange to transport the body to the funeral home and obtain the documents necessary for burial or cremation. In accordance with the wishes of the next of kin, arrangements can be made with the funeral home for transportation of the body for disposition out of state or out of the country.

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8. How is a funeral director selected?

Usually, the next of kin discusses the selection of a funeral director with other members of the family, friends, and/or clergy. Staff of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner are prohibited from recommending a funeral director.

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9. Where is the deceased's personal property held?

If you have any questions regarding personal property, you may ask a staff member when you are being interviewed. OCME has an Evidence Unit, which on occasion receives personal property.

If a person dies in the absence of family, or has no family, all personal property is taken to the precinct in which the death occurred; from there it is transmitted to the New York City Police Department ("NYPD") Property Clerk. OCME staff can provide the phone number for the precinct.

If the deceased died while in the hospital or nursing home, or death was pronounced upon arrival at a hospital, personal property is safeguarded there. OCME staff will provide you with the name and phone number of the hospital administrator to contact.  If the death is a homicide, personal property may be held by NYPD until the close of the criminal prosecution.

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10. How do I obtain a copy of the death certificate?

Copies of the death certificate can be obtained in person or by mail from:
 
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Bureau of Vital Statistics
125 Worth Street
New York, New York 10013
212.788.4520
Please visit the DOHMH Web site for detailed information 

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11. How can I obtain a copy of the Autopsy Report?

Completed autopsy and toxicology reports are obtained by written request to:
 
Office of Chief Medical Examiner
Records Department
421 East 26 Street
New York, NY 10016

A blank request letter may be obtained from the Identification Unit Staff who interviews you.

Please include in your request:

  • The name of the deceased
  • Medical Examiner case number (available from the ID Unit staff or the death certificate)
  • Date and borough of death
  • Your name and relationship to the deceased

Questions

If you have any other questions or problems, the following agencies may be able to assist you:

Safe Horizon (Victim Services Agency)
(Information and assistance for victims of crime and their families) 24 hour hotline 212.577.7777

New York City Information and Counseling, Program for Sudden Infant Death
(For families whose infant died due to SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or "Crib Death") 212.447.2328

Visitors Assistance Bureau
(Information and referral for persons living outside New York City)
212.484.1222

Bereavement and Loss Center of New York City
(A counseling service for widows and widowers) 212.879.5655

New York Red Cross
1.877.RED CROSS
(1.877.733.2767)

New York City Police Department
Office of Public Information

646.610.6700

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Bureau of Vital Statistics
212.788.4520

District Attorneys:

Bronx County
Kings County
New York County
Queens County
Richmond County
  718.590.2000
718.250.2000
212.335.9000
718.286.6000
718.876.6300


Public Administrators:

Bronx County
Kings County
New York County
Queens County
Richmond County
  718.293.7660
718.643.3032
212.788.8430
718.526.5037
718.876.7228

 

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