New Hampshire Department of Justice
New Hampshire Department of Justice - an official New Hampshire Government Web site
Smaller text size Reset text size Larger text size

Medical Examiner FAQ

What is an autopsy?

Does the Medical Examiner need permission to conduct an autopsy?

Is an autopsy always necessary?

How is the deceased transported to the OCME?

Do I need to come to the OCME for identification?

Can the deceased be viewed at the OCME?

Who pays for an autopsy?

What happens to the deceased after the autopsy?

How long will the deceased stay at the OCME?

What happens to personal property?

How can I obtain an autopsy report?

How much does the autopsy report cost?

Who grants permission for organ or tissue donation?

What are the legal requirements for cremation?

How do I obtain a death certificate?


back to topWhat is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a surgical procedure, which consists of a thorough external and internal examination of the deceased. Internal organs are inspected for indications of injury or natural disease processes. Various tissues and fluid specimens may be collected to determine the cause and manner of death. Tissues and, in a few specific types of cases, whole organs may be retained by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) for diagnostic testing. These specimens are subsequently destroyed in the same manner as surgical specimens in a hospital, unless arrangements have been made by the next-of-kin. An autopsy does NOT interfere with the final viewing and funeral of the deceased.

back to topDoes the Medical Examiner need permission to conduct an autopsy?

No. However, if religious or other objections are raised by the next-of-kin, they will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The OCME is respectful of the wishes of the family and, in some cases, may be able to accommodate them. Autopsies are required on all homicide victims.

back to topIs an autopsy always necessary?

No. The OCME will decide whether one is necessary after gathering some initial information concerning the death. An autopsy may not be required when adequate medical history exists to document the illness or injury leading to the death and there are no signs of foul play.

In these cases an external examination and collecting samples for drug testing may be all that is necessary. Should an autopsy be deemed necessary, however, the deceased will be transported to the OCME autopsy facility at Concord Hospital. In most cases, information gathered from an autopsy will not only establish the cause and manner of death but may also assist in the grieving process, uncover familial diseases, provide evidence for settlement of death benefits and aid in adjudication of criminal cases.

back to topHow is the deceased transported to the OCME?

Local funeral homes provide transportation service at State expense. If you have already chosen a local funeral home, they will be contacted first.

back to topDo I need to come to the OCME for identification?

No. Typically, identification is made at the place of death by a friend or family member or by comparison with a photo-identification. In rare cases, a family member or close friend may be required to view photographs of the deceased to confirm identification.

Identification of persons not visually identifiable is achieved through dental examination, x-rays, fingerprint comparison or other forensic techniques. In some instances, identification is established using facts gathered by the ADME together with individual, unique characteristics of the deceased (scars, tattoos, etc.). 

back to topCan the deceased be viewed at the OCME?

No. Unfortunately, the OCME does not have the facility or the staff to accommodate viewing requests. The deceased may be viewed in a more appropriate environment, such as a licensed funeral home or crematorium.

back to topWho pays for an autopsy?

Autopsies are performed at State expense.

back to topWhat happens to the deceased after the autopsy?

NH law permits the next-of-kin to claim and transport their loved one without the assistance of a funeral home. However, most people contact a funeral home or cremation service to make appropriate arrangements for transportation, memorial, burial and crematory services.

If you are not from NH, you may wish to select a local funeral home from your hometown to assist you. They will contact a NH funeral home and work together to meet your family's needs.

back to topHow long will the deceased stay at the OCME?

In most cases, the deceased can be released to a funeral home immediately following the autopsy, usually within 24 to 48 hours of arrival at OCME. However, the deceased may remain at OCME for as long as required to make the necessary funeral arrangements.

back to topWhat happens to personal property?

Where an autopsy will not be performed, personal property on the deceased at the time of death is normally removed and released to the family or law enforcement. If an autopsy is performed, the personal property will be transported to the OCME along with the deceased. Such property may include photo-identification (such as a driver's license), prescription medications and other personal items on or associated with the deceased. The identification and medications are retained at the OCME. Other personal items are typically released with the deceased to the funeral home following the autopsy. In certain cases, involving potential criminal conduct, personal effects are considered "evidence" and are turned over to the investigating law enforcement agency.

back to topHow can I obtain an autopsy report?

Following autopsy, an initial verbal report will be made to the next-of-kin by telephone. Final written reports, however, will not be available until all diagnostic testing is complete. Typically this requires several weeks to a few months. Autopsy reports, except in the case of homicides, may be requested by the next-of-kin as defined under RSA 290:16 IV (i.e. spouse or legal partner, adult child, parent, adult sibling in order of priority). Requests can be faxed or mailed to the OCME and should include the following information:

  1. The name of the deceased
  2. The date of death
  3. The requestor's full name, address and relationship to the deceased.

All reports are mailed and cannot be faxed.

back to topHow much does the autopsy report cost?

There is no charge to next-of-kin for an autopsy report.

back to topWho grants permission for organ or tissue donation?

Only the next-of-kin can grant permission to the organ procurement agency for organ or tissue donation. In rare instances, to protect certain forensic evidence, the Medical Examiner may have to disallow certain aspects of the organ or tissue procurement procedure. The ADME will notify the organ procurement agency where appropriate.

back to topWhat are the legal requirements for cremation?

Due to the irreversible nature of cremation, New Hampshire law requires a 48-hour waiting period from the time of death until cremation can occur. Before a cremation can occur, the deceased must be examined by a Medical Examiner. The examination is arranged by the funeral home or crematory.

back to topHow do I obtain a death certificate?

In most cases the funeral director will provide certified copies of the death certificate to the next-of-kin. Death certificates can also be obtained directly from the town or city clerk where the death occurred or from:

NH Department Of State
Division Of Vital Records Administration
71 South Fruit Street
Concord, New Hampshire 03301-2410
Telephone: (603) 271-4650 or 1-800-852-3345 x 4651 (In State toll free)
E-mail: vitalrecords@sos.state.nh.us

In some cases a pending death certificate will be issued initially. Once all test results are available, a final amended death certificate will be prepared and the next-of-kin notified by telephone.

 


New Hampshire Department of Justice | 33 Capitol Street | Concord, NH | 03301
Telephone: 603-271-3658