ME Frequently Asked Questions
1 - When is a death required to be reported to the county coroner or county medical examiner?
The Georgia Death Investigation Act (O.C.G.A. 45-16-24) requires that the coroner or county medical examiner of the county where the body is found or the incident that led to the death occurs be notified in the following circumstances:
- As a result of violence;
- By suicide or casualty;
- Suddenly when in apparent good health;
- In any suspicious or unusual manner, with particular attention to those persons 16 years of age and under;
- After birth but before seven years of age if the death is unexpected or unexplained;
- As a result of an execution carried out pursuant to the imposition of the death penalty under Article 2 of Chapter 10 of Title 17;
- When an inmate of a state hospital or a state, county, or city penal institution; or
- After having been admitted to a hospital in an unconscious state and without regaining consciousness within 24 hours of admission.
- As a result of an apparent drug overdose; or
- When unattended by a physician,
No person shall be deemed to have died unattended when the death occurred while he or she was a patient of a hospice licensed under Article 9 of Chapter 7 of Title 31 of the Georgia Code.
2 – What is the cause of death and the manner of death?
The cause of death is the disease, injury or combination of disease and injury responsible for the death.
The underlying or proximate cause of death is that which, in a natural and continuous sequence unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the end result and without which the end result would not have occurred.
There are five determinations for manner of death:
- Homicide - the death was caused by the actions of another person.
- Natural - the death was from diseases or medical conditions such as cancer or heart attack.
- Accidental - an unintended death.
- Suicide - a death that is intentionally self-inflicted.
- Undetermined - After a thorough examination, no definitive manner of death could be reached.
3 – What is the difference between a coroner and a medical examiner?
As per OCGA 45-16-1, a coroner is an elected official who must be a US citizen, reside in the county in which he/she seeks office, is registered to vote, is at least 25 years of age, has obtained a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent, and has not been convicted of a felony. A medical examiner is a licensed physician who has specialty training in anatomic +/- clinical pathology and forensic pathology.
4 – Can a citizen request an autopsy?
All requests for autopsies must be made through the coroner office or law enforcement. The GBI Medical Examiner’s Office does not accept direct family request autopsies. The final determination as to the performance of an autopsy lies with the Medical Examiner.
5 - I would like to report a death or have concerns about a death, what should I do?
You must contact your local law enforcement agency or district attorney to request an investigation. The GBI Medical Examiner’s Office performs autopsies at the request of county coroners, local officials and state officials.
6 – What is an autopsy? A. Autopsy means “to see for oneself”. It is an examination of a decedent which can either be an external examination (examining the outside of the body only), a limited examination (examining one portion of the body; i.e. the head), or a complete autopsy (examining the outside and the inside of the head, neck, chest and abdomen).
7 – Does the coroner/medical examiner need permission to conduct an examination? A. No but all efforts will be made to respect the religious and cultural beliefs of the decedent’s next of kin.
8 – Is an autopsy always necessary? A. No. The coroner or medical examiner will make the determination if an examination is warranted.
9 – Do I need to come to the Medical Examiner’s Office if my loved one is there? A. No. The medical examiner office is not equipped for viewing of decedents.
10 – Who pays for the autopsy? A. The GBI Medical Examiner’s Office receives a state budget to perform autopsy services and no charges are passed on to local agencies, coroners, or family members; but, the coroner having jurisdiction over the death is responsible for transportation of the body to and from the Medical Examiner’s morgue facility.
11 - What happens after the autopsy? A. The coroner will be notified of the cause and manner of death or if the status is pending. The coroner will contact the next of kin and relay this information as well as obtain funeral home information so that the decedent can be released from the Medical Examiner Office. For Clayton County, the ME office will perform the functions of the coroner.
12 – What does it mean if a case is “pending”? A. Pending means that further studies or information are required before a determination of the cause and manner of death can be made. Common reasons that a case is pending include toxicology (drug analysis), histology (looking at slides under the microscope), or investigation. The final determination of cause and manner of death may take on the order of months for these cases.
13 - Who notifies me of the cause and manner of death? A. The coroner for the county in which the decedent died.
14 – What happens to the decedent’s personal effects? A. Personal effects that are received with the decedent will be inventoried and released with the body when picked up by the funeral home or coroner. Exceptions to this are medications, illicit drugs, or other items deemed to be of evidentiary value.
15 – How do I obtain an autopsy report? A. Official reports can be requested through the GBI open records department at 404-270-8529. There is no charge to next of kin.
16 - How do I obtain a death certificate? A. Contact the vital records department of the county in which the individual died or visit https://dph.georgia.gov/death-records