LAW & PUBLIC SAFETYMedical ExaminerCommon Questions   

Common Questions

What is a Medical Examiner and Medical Examiner Investigator? 

The Medical Examiner is a licensed physician, trained in the specialty of forensic pathology. The Medical Examiner provides death investigative and forensic autopsy services. Medical Examiner Investigators are highly trained, experienced individuals who perform death investigations by gathering and interpreting information to ensure that death investigations are impartial, thorough and accurate. Investigators may ask you many questions meant to find answers about how and why your loved one died. Our goal is to assist families, law enforcement agencies and the legal system by determining a scientifically unbiased and logical cause and manner of death. The information gathered during an investigation and autopsy can be critical in civil or criminal court cases.

How does the Medical Examiner help families and friends?

A properly completed death certificate is usually necessary to claim insurance, receive government benefits, settle the decedent's estate and pursue any civil or criminal legal action. Medical benefits provided by an autopsy include a medical determination of the cause of death, recognition of unsuspected unnatural causes of death, identification of public health hazards and sometimes the identification of an undiagnosed hereditary medical condition.

How do I get a copy of the death certificate?

The funeral director you have chosen to handle final arrangements for your loved one can assist you in getting copies of the death certificate. The Medical Examiner's Office cannot issue copies of death certificates.

What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is an examination of the body to determine the cause and manner of death and assess any abnormalities that may be present. A complete forensic autopsy includes a review of the decedent's medical history. Small specimens of internal organs are examined, and samples of body fluids are retained and tested for drugs and other substances. In deaths resulting from violence, other types of evidence may be collected and examined by a crime laboratory. The autopsy and other tests rarely delay the release of the body to the next-of-kin, however, final results of the autopsy report may take weeks. In occasional cases specialized microscopic or laboratory studies may delay the final report longer.

What happens to clothing or property?

The Medical Examiner Investigator will make a careful accounting of all property and clothing brought into the Medical Examiner's Office. Property is normally released with the decedent to the funeral home, and next-of-kin can obtain items from the funeral director. In cases of homicide or undetermined death, the clothing and property are released to the investigating law enforcement agency.

Will an autopsy always be performed?

No. In many cases of sudden or unexpected death, evidence of preexisting natural disease will make an autopsy unnecessary.

Can a family refuse an autopsy?

Minnesota law allows family (the representative with the right to control the disposition defined in statute 149A.80). to object to an autopsy based on the loved one’s religious beliefs. In certain instances, autopsies must be completed in the interest of public health or to answer medical or legal questions. The St. Louis County Medical Examiner is open to discussion to try and accommodate family objections to autopsy while fulfilling its legal obligation.

Who has access to autopsy information and data the Medical Examiner collects?

Basic demographic information and the cause and manner of death are matters of public record under Minnesota law. The rest of the information is confidential and treated similarly to a medical record. This information is available only to immediate next-of-kin, legal representatives of the decedent's estate and treating physicians.

How do I get a copy of the autopsy report?

Immediate next-of-kin should submit a written request for the autopsy report to:
Midwest Medical Examiner's Office
14341 Rhinestone St. NW
Ramsey, MN 55303

Include your full name, address, daytime telephone number and your relationship to the decedent. There is a $25 charge for this service, so a check or money order made out to “Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office” must be included with the request.