What happens when the deceased is at the Medical Examiner’s? How to make funeral arrangements?

This short guide aims to answer some of the questions you may have if the deceased is taken to the Medical Examiner’s, including how to go about making funeral arrangements and any further considerations you might have.

In general, the Medical Examiner will attempt to determine:

  • the identity of the deceased
  • the date and place of death
  • the medical reason for death (why it occurred)
  • the manner of death

Why is a body taken to the Medical Examiner’s?

The deceased will be transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner (OCME) if the circumstances surrounding their death are unnatural or suspicious in nature, or if they were a victim of a crime or accident. The medical examiner is charged with determining a cause of death and then preparing a death certificate.

They will conduct an examination and a series of tests to assess what the cause of death was.  In some cases, they may only need to perform an external examination and toxicology, in other cases, an autopsy may be required.  The Medical Examiner may also make observations at the scene of the death to collect data that may help determine the events that may have caused the death.

So, the authorities will likely call the Medical Examiner and the body will be taken to the Medical Examiner’s morgue for an examination if they died unexpectedly, violently, or without an obvious cause of death.  Medical Response teams and law enforcement officers are required to call in the Medical Examiner if they arrive at the scene of a death where they determine the cause of death to need investigation.

Funeral directors are also required to follow certain guidelines about referring death cases to the Medical Examiner if certain circumstances are evident. If a funeral director is called to make a residential collection and feels that the circumstances surrounding the death may not be clearly apparent, he is obligated to call in the Medical Examiner.

Will an autopsy be performed if the body is at the Medical Examiner’s?

No, just because the deceased is taken to the Medical Examiner’s morgue does not necessarily mean an autopsy will be performed.  This will be determined by the Medical Examiner reviewing the case and cause of death.

Does the Medical Examiner need permission from the next of kin to perform an autopsy?

No, as the function of the OCME is to protect public safety. If it is deemed necessary to conduct an autopsy, one will be performed.  However, the OCME understands that some families may not wish to have an autopsy performed on a loved one, and if the cause of death can be adequately ascertained without an autopsy, the need for an autopsy can be avoided.  Sometimes the needs of law enforcement agencies dictate that an autopsy report be submitted.

Can family view the deceased at the OCME?

No, as a rule, the OCME does not facilitate viewings of the body.  An ID is required to identify the body, but this is generally facilitated using a photo of the face of the deceased and possibly any identifying marks such as tattoos, scars or moles, etc.

Can an open-casket service be conducted after an autopsy?

Yes, your funeral director can still arrange an open-casket service after an autopsy has been performed.  A medical examination is conducted with respect for the deceased and in a professional manner that should not interfere with a viewing of the deceased.  However, this is dictated by whether the deceased was in a suitable condition for viewing prior to the autopsy.

How is the deceased released from the OCME?

The deceased can only be released from the OCME into the care of a funeral director.  Once the medical examination has been conducted, arrangements can be made for the deceased to be transported to the funeral home.  If your loved one is held at the Medical Examiners, then it is wise to select a funeral home or cremation provider to handle pending funeral arrangements.  The designated funeral home will then liaise with the Medical Examiner’s office for you and notify you when the deceased is released into their care.

Generally, death certificates, cremation permits, and any transit permit required are given to the funeral director when he collects the deceased from the Medical Examiner’s office.

Who contacts the Funeral Home or Cremation Provider?

Just as under normal circumstances, it is the responsibility of the legal next of kin to select and contract a funeral home.  The funeral home will then take care of all required legal matters pertaining to obtaining the death certificate and the release of the body to the funeral home.

How do I obtain a certified copy of the death certificate?

Your funeral director will provide you with certified copies of the death certificate.  Alternatively, additional certified copies can be obtained from vital statistics.

How do I obtain copies of the Medical Examiner’s report?

The Medical Examiner’s report and other documents relating to the examiner’s investigation can be ordered from the OCME for a fee. This will vary from province to province.

How long can the Medical Examiner hold the body for?

This can depend on how straight-forward the examination is.  As soon as the examination is completed a signed authorization from the legal next of kin is required for the OCME to release the deceased to the funeral home.  The funeral director will generally complete this paperwork with you so that he can take it to the Medical Examiner when he receives notification that the body is ready to be released.

The Medical Examiner understands that it is a very difficult time for relatives, and they generally try and expedite the process where possible.  This is also why it is easier to ensure you have enlisted a funeral home as soon as possible, as a funeral director is familiar with the Medical Examiner’s office, who to contact and the procedures for releasing a body.

Generally, the Medical Examiner will try to conduct the examination within 24 to 48 hours after the deceased has been brought to the OCME.  In most cases, the deceased can be released to the funeral home once the medical examination has been completed.  However, if there are suspicious circumstances, or the case is a homicide, the deceased may be held for some additional time.

How do I claim a body that is held at the morgue?

You need to appoint a funeral director from a funeral home or a cremation society as only licensed funeral directors can collect the deceased from the Medical Examiner’s morgue.

The sooner you select a funeral services provider to handle the funeral services, they can begin to communicate with the OCME with a view to getting the deceased released into their care as soon as is possible.

How do I arrange an affordable cremation if the deceased is at the county morgue?

If you just wish to arrange for a simple cremation after the medical examination, you will still need to appoint a funeral service provider or cremation company.  They will complete the necessary forms with you to authorize a direct cremation.  A direct cremation is where the deceased is collected and then a cremation performed without any ceremony or services.  It is the most economical way to arrange a simple disposition.   Once the funeral home or crematory has performed the cremation, they can make the cremated remains available for you to collect. 

The process to liaise with the Medical Examiner and collect the deceased from the morgue is a routine procedure for a funeral home or cremation company.  Therefore, in many counties, the price charged for a direct cremation from the Medical Examiner can be maintained at a low cost. 

The Medical Examiner will not generally refer you to a funeral home as this can be seen to be favoring a specific funeral services provider.  If you do not have a funeral services provider selected you will need to find one.  This can often be determined by what type of funeral services you require and what funds you have.

DFS Memorials has a network of affordable direct cremation providers throughout Canada.  All providers offer affordable funeral and cremation services.  Visit the DFS Memorials website to find your nearest location and what they charge for a basic cremation service.  Direct cremation prices start from $845.

If you have any further questions about the care of a loved one and transfer from the Medical Examiner to a funeral home, contact your local OCME.  Contact details can be found on relevant Province or city funeral guides in our Resources – Canada Funeral Guides by Province and City.

Written by

Andrew joined the team at Canadian Funerals in 2017. He heads up the content management for the website.