Whether as part of the Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, All Souls Day or for other reasons, as we remember those we’ve loved and lost, let’s honor their memories by committing to a better system of investigating death in the United States. A system that acknowledges that we’ve learned a few things since the 18th century, from which time some of our jurisdictions’ modes of death investigation are all but unchanged.
What would that system include?
To begin to get to the ideal, jurisdictions throughout the U.S. would adopt the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences.
Shockingly, millions of Americans live in jurisdictions that:
1) Require no forensic, legal, or any other kind of training for an individual to be a coroner.
2) Do not provide office space for coroners.
3) Do not provide computers for coroners. Death records are on a paper system, likely not stored carefully or in one place.
4) Do not provide coroners refrigeration equipment for the storage of bodies.
5) Do not provide coroners or medical examiners with Xray and other basic examination equipment.
So the beginning steps include items would seem like “no brainers” — basic training requirements, facilities, equipment — but apparently our elected officials need to hear that current conditions must not continue. None of us, no matter how excellent things may be in our own jurisdictions, can afford what is bound to happen when so many others live in jurisdictions where death investigation is in a horribly crude and out-dated condition. Missing persons cases, disease outbreak, product safety, and criminal justice are just a few of the areas that suffer nationally when death investigation is inadequate. You think crime and cause of death statistics are accurate? How can they be, if death investigators don’t know how to do their job or are lacking the basic tools they need to do it well?
For those jurisdictions without the resources to do more, perhaps it’s time we looked at creative solutions, such as regional death investigation centers.
Nationally, we face a dire shortage of forensic pathologists, so perhaps we should consider programs that would pay for schooling and training in exchange for a commitment of a number of years of service in medical examiners offices.
What are your ideas on ways we can change death investigation for the better?
Posted by: Jan Burke