Office of Chief Medical Examiner311Search all NYC.gov websites

Frequently Asked Questions

People who come to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner ("OCME") to make an identification often have questions about procedures.

Información en Español

Click a topic, or press the enter key on a topic, to reveal its answer.

Why is a body brought to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner?

Bodies of deceased persons are brought to this office because the law requires that the Chief Medical Examiner investigate deaths of persons dying from criminal violence, by accident, by suicide, suddenly when in apparent health, when unattended by a physician, in a correctional facility, or in any suspicious or unusual manner. The medical examiner is responsible for determining the cause and manner of death.

A body also may be brought to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner if the identity of the deceased or of the next of kin is unknown. The body is retained by this office for a reasonable period of time before interment at City Cemetery or until the next of kin can be located by the Police Department and identification established and funeral arrangements made.

Why must the body of the deceased person be identified?

Identification is necessary in order to establish that the person reported to OCME as having died is, in fact, that person, and to complete the certificate of death.

What is the Identification Procedure?

The person making the identification first will be asked to give certain information about him/herself as well as about the deceased person. Once the information has been recorded, the identifying person will view a photograph of the deceased person (taken at OCME) in order to complete the identification process. As a general rule, the photograph is of the face only; occasionally, it will be of a mark such as a tattoo or scar.

How long is the wait to make an identification?

You will be seen by a member of the Identification staff as soon as reasonably possible. The Identification Unit operates seven days a week, including weekends and holidays, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

All centers may be reached by telephone at 212-447-2030

Family Services Centers locations

What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a systematic examination of the body of a deceased person by a qualified pathologist. Performance of an autopsy does not interfere with having the body on view at the funeral. The body is inspected for the presence of disease or injury; specimens of the vital organs and/or body fluids may be taken for microscopic, chemical, or other tests. In some instances, an organ such as a brain or heart may be retained for further diagnostic tests.

These diagnostic tests are conducted after release of the body to the next of kin. After the body is released to next of kin, a family may contact the Office of Chief Medical Examiner to request the return of any organs and/or tissue specimens.

A written record is made of the autopsy findings including the microscopic and laboratory tests, and the reports of consultants. Copies of these reports are available upon request by next of kin or other authorized individuals.

Why might an autopsy be performed? Is an autopsy required?

The primary purpose of an autopsy is to determine cause and manner of death. Among the questions pathologists seek to answer are:

  • Did the death result from disease, injury, a combination of both, or another cause altogether?
  • Where the death results from chemical agents, can we obtain biological samples for testing in the laboratory, and to evaluate the effects of the chemical agents on vital organs?
  • Where death results from physical injuries, can we reconstruct the fatal incident?

The autopsy is generally performed at the discretion of the medical examiner and serves the best interests of the public, and of the family, by answering a multitude of pressing and important questions. The performing of autopsies are often required to fulfill the agency's legal, medical, and public role and responsibility.

In the instance where the next of kin strongly objects to an autopsy, OCME makes every effort to honor that objection. If the family has raised a viable religious objection (i.e., based on Judaism, Islam, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witness, or 7th Day Adventist) they will be provided an opportunity to hire an attorney, if they desire, and to present their objection to a Judge who will determine whether an autopsy will be performed. Objections to autopsy which are not based on religious beliefs have no standing in the law.

Since the OCME works with law enforcement agencies, how does the delay of a determination affect criminal investigations?

Often, additional information is needed from medical records, police reports, subsequent laboratory tests, and other sources before a final determination on cause and manner of death can be made. In such cases, the death certificate will state the cause and manner of death as "pending further studies" until the medical examiner can issue an amended death certificate later when the final determination is made.

While medical examiners routinely assess information from other sources and records as part of a death investigation, their role in criminal investigations is specific and limited. The agency always defers to the investigating law enforcement entity on wider inquiries around any criminal investigation. Pathologists testify in criminal proceedings regarding their medical examinations, and accuracy is vital. Unlike other municipalities, the OCME is not under the authority of any law enforcement entity, and our findings are completely independent.

How is a funeral director selected?

Usually, the next of kin discusses the selection of a funeral director with other members of the family, friends, and/or clergy. Staff of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner are prohibited from recommending a funeral director.

Where is the deceased's personal property held?

If personal property is located on the body of a deceased person, the property will be released to the funeral home when their body is released.

If a person dies in the absence of family, or has no family, all personal property is taken to the precinct in which the death occurred. From there, it is transmitted to the New York City Police Department ("NYPD") Property Clerk.

If the deceased died while in the hospital or nursing home, or death was pronounced upon arrival at a hospital, personal property is safeguarded there. OCME staff will provide you with the name and phone number of the hospital administrator.

If the death is a homicide or suspicious in nature, personal property may be held by NYPD until the close of the investigation and/or criminal prosecution.

How can I obtain a copy of the Autopsy Report?

Completed Autopsy report (including all laboratory reports included by reference) are obtained only by written request. Please complete this Autopsy request form.

Note: Autopsy reports may only be requested by next of kin or officers of the court.

If you want these reports sent to someone other than yourself (e.g., to an attorney or an insurance company), your signature on the request MUST be NOTARIZED.

Can I request copies of Autopsy Report via e-mail?

Unfortunately, we cannot honor e-mail requests for OCME Autopsy reports at this time.

How much does it cost for a copy of the Autopsy Report?

Autopsy reports are provided free of charge.

Are there any other charges that I should be aware of?

There are no charges to the family for the services of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Who can I call if I have medical/scientific questions about an Autopsy Report I have received?

Please call 212-447 2030 then press 3 to be directed to the medical examiner who performed the autopsy.