Our nationwide investigation has found that there is no federal oversight of death investigators or the offices in which they work. Body parts have been lost in Massachusetts, murderers went free in Nebraska because of incompetent autopsies, whereas in Mississippi botched autopsies have sent innocent people to prison for life.
“Hospitals are accredited. Barbers are accredited. You would think that a medical legal death investigation system would have to go through a periodic inspection and accreditation,” says Dr. Ross Zumwalt, chief of the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator and one of the co-authors of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study that recommends national standards for death investigation. “We need a federal or national standard because there is so much variation between the states.”
Currently the nation’s 2,342 death investigation offices can receive voluntary accreditation from two industry organizations:
- The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) standards are recognized as the model for national standards and the group has certified nearly 70 offices to date. NAME accreditation lasts for five years.
- The International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners (IACME) has accredited nine offices. IACME offices are accredited for three years