Frequently Asked Questions
- Can I say no to an autopsy?
- How do I find out about organ and tissue donation?
- How do I get the personal effects back?
- How do I obtain a copy of an autopsy report?
- How do I obtain a Death Certificate?
- How much will Medical Examiner services cost?
- What do I do with the residence?
- What happens during the autopsy?
- What if I need more time to select a funeral home?
- What if I want an autopsy, but the Medical Examiner has determined that a forensic autopsy is not warranted?
- Where can I get help with clean up of the residence after a death?
- Where will the body be taken?
- Who are the people removing the body?
- Why do an autopsy?
- Will an autopsy effect funeral preparations?
- Will an autopsy delay the funeral?
1. Can I say no to an autopsy?
The Medical Examiner has legal authority to decide if an autopsy will be performed. However, we certainly wish to respect the wishes and concerns of you and your family during this difficult time. We encourage you to call and discuss your particular situation with the Medical Examiner, as part of his or her decision making process. If you do object to an autopsy you should contact our office as soon as possible at 509-477-2296 and advise us of your concern.
2. How do I find out about organ and tissue donation?
Although our office has no part in determining the suitability of organ and tissue recovery, we do try to facilitate the process by putting families in touch with the regional agency that does this work. If you have such an interest you may call the Donor Information Line at 800-214-6356 to have your questions answered about tissue and organ recovery.
3. How do I get personal effects back?
Clothing will go to the funeral home with the body. Other personal items such as jewelry, wallets, keys, etc. are logged separately, held in a secure area at our facility, and then released to the next-of-kin or to someone they designate.
Unclaimed property is transferred to the Spokane County Treasurer/Auditor on a regular basis per Washington State Law (see RCW 36.247.130). You may call our office and make an appointment to pick these items up.
Medications in the name of the deceased cannot be released.
4. How do I obtain a copy of an autopsy report?
There is a $20 copy fee payable by cash, check, or money order. The copy fee is due prior to any records being released. Checks and money orders must be payable to The Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office.
This report is confidential in the state of Washington per RCW 68.50.105.
Any person eligible to receive a copy of the autopsy report under RCW 68.50.105 will need to call the office to set an appointment to pick up the autopsy report, or for directions for mailing in a written request for the autopsy report.
As stated in RCW 68.50.105, Reports and records of autopsies or postmortems shall be confidential, except that the following persons may examine and obtain copies of any such report or record: The personal representative of the decedent as defined in RCW 11.02.005, any family member, the attending physician or advanced registered nurse practitioner, the prosecuting attorney or law enforcement agencies having jurisdiction, public health officials, the department of labor and industries in cases in which it has an interest under RCW 68.50.103, or the secretary of the department of social and health services or his or her designee in cases being reviewed under RCW 74.13.640. (The term "family" means the surviving spouse, state registered domestic partner, or any child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, brother, or sister of the decedent, or any person who was the guardian of the decedent at the time of death).
If you meet the criteria listed above, you may request a copy of the autopsy report. To request a copy of the autopsy report, contact the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office for instructions: (509)-477-2296
5. How do I obtain a Death Certificate?
Copies of the death certificate are often needed to make insurance claims, transfer titles, and to finish other financial business. Most funeral homes will help you get copies of the death certificate or you can call the Spokane Regional Health District, Vital Records at 509-324-1524. You may also visit their website below.
The Medical Examiner’s Office does not have the ability to issue copies of Death Certificates. Only Vital Records and/or the Funeral Home can provide these to you.
Spokane Regional Health District
6. How much will Medical Examiner services cost?
With the exception of the autopsy report (if desired), there is no charge for the autopsy services provided by our office. We are supported by county tax dollars and revenue from surrounding counties.
7. What do I do with the residence?
The Medical Examiner's Office has jurisdiction over the body and things associated with the death. Legal jurisdiction over the rest of the death scene lies with the responding police or deputy. Law enforcement officers on scene may be a resource in helping you with security questions and concerns.
8. What happens during the autopsy?
1. The examination of the body. Sometimes this reveals an injury or disease that can be seen such as an aneurysm, a fracture, or a gunshot wound. Some causes of death are not visible and may not be apparent at the time of autopsy.
2. The histology, or “slides.” When an autopsy is performed several small tissue samples are normally taken and sent out to be prepared, and then returned as slides for microscopic examination. This normally takes seven to ten working days to process. The doctor will view these slides for signs of infection, injury, or disease and include these findings in the autopsy report.
3. A toxicology report. In most cases we request a toxicology analysis from the Washington State Toxicology Lab in Seattle. This typically involves sending blood and urine samples to the lab which then screens the samples for selected medications as well as common drugs of abuse and returns a report to our office. This process currently takes approximately eight to ten weeks, depending on the lab’s work load, staffing, and the complexity of the results.
In 2017, due to staffing and funding issues, the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory began experiencing backlogs with all toxicology results throughout the state. This backlog has continued throughout 2018 with no end in sight.
Unfortunately, the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office has been affected by this backlog as have all other Medical Examiners send Coroners in the state. This office is currently unable to estimate the length of time required for toxicology results to be returned from the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory.
9. What if I need more time to select a funeral home?
We recognize that this is a stressful time. However, due to the limited space in our facility, and out of consideration for other families that have similar needs, we ask that you call our office 509-477-2296 for assistance if you cannot make a funeral home decision in the first two or three days.
If the Medical Examiner declines to do an autopsy the family may, at their own expense, pursue a private autopsy. Typically, this involves contacting a private pathology service and paying a fee for their service.
11. Where can I get help with clean up of the residence after a death?
Crime scene clean-up involves the cleaning up of bio-hazardous material, such as blood, tissue, and/or other bodily fluids. This may mean the biologically contaminated scene of a violent death such as homicide, suicide, accident, or in deaths in which decomposition has begun to occur.
Special knowledge is required to safely handle bio-hazardous material; the companies that handle crime scene clean up have the training to handle such scenes and all hazardous materials.
For a listing of local and regional Bio-Hazard Cleaning Services, visit our Bio-Hazard Cleaning Services Page.
12. Where will the body be taken?
The body will be transported to the Forensic Institute (the county morgue facility) located at Holy Family Hospital. To ensure privacy of families and individuals involved in our investigations, the dignity of their loved ones, and to preserve the easily compromised medicolegal evidence that may be present in the various cases we handle, we regret that we cannot allow public access or viewing in our facility.
Viewing of the body can be arranged later with your funeral home. In some deaths, when it is unlikely that an autopsy will be performed, the body may be released to a funeral home as directed by the family without an autopsy.
13. Who are the people removing the body?
The Medical Examiner's Office contracts with Lilac City Transport, a private company, to provide transportation services to the county morgue facility at Holy Family Hospital.
14. Why do an autopsy?
An autopsy is performed at the discretion of the Medical Examiner in order to determine the cause and manner of death when the death may have been accidental, the result of a suicide or homicide, or otherwise falls under our jurisdiction. An autopsy can tell us what happened, and sometimes just as importantly, what didn’t happen.
An autopsy generates a legal document that can be used in court for insurance claims, to settle estates, and so on. Autopsy findings may also provide peace of mind to a family who may also have questions about the circumstances resulting in the death of their loved one.
15. Will an autopsy effect funeral preparations?
In most cases the results of an autopsy examination will not be visible or noticeable during a funeral.
16. Will an autopsy delay the funeral?
Generally, as long as the body is positively identified and you have told us which funeral home to call, we can release the body to the funeral home as soon as the autopsy is completed.