Taking the Mystery out of the Medical Examiner’s Office
You hear about the medical examiner on the news, and you might be familiar with some of the fictionalized characters like Quincy, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, or Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh. But for most people, what goes on inside the Medical Examiner’s office may be something of a mystery.
Here are some quick facts about the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner:
- Hillsborough County uses medical examiners (ME) versus coroners. Unlike coroners who are elected officials and may not have a background in medical or forensic science, the County’s MEs are licensed doctors who are board certified in forensic pathology.
- During the 20-year period from 1996 through 2016, the ME’s Office performed more than 26,000 autopsies.
- By state law, here are some of the situations when the medical examiner must determine the cause of death:
- criminal violence, accident, suicide, or poison
- unattended by a practicing physician or other recognized practitioner
- under suspicious or unusual circumstances
- suddenly, when in apparent good health
- Medical Examiners have to review information on the death and approve before a body is cremated, buried at sea, donated to science, or removed from Florida.
- As of July 2017, there are 52 cases of unidentified remains, going back to 1975, and most of the remains are still stored at the Medical Examiner’s Office.
- Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal of viewing the body at the ME’s office, MEs almost always use a photograph when they need legal identification.