Saturday, February 20, 2016

Confusion surrounding the death of Justice Scalia

The death of Justice Scalia has brought much attention to our current death investigation system.  When Justice Scalia was discovered dead, there was much confusion surrounding his death.  Initially, when the Justice of the Peace in the remote area of Texas where he passed, was contacted, it was discovered both Justice of the Peace were out of town which lead to finding one who agreed to pronounce Justice Scalia dead over the phone.  The death scene was not investigated well nor did any official who is considered the coroner in Texas (Justice of the Peace) actually visit his death scene.  

In Texas the coroners are not physicians, rather they are Justice of the Peace and I am not even sure that any of them get much formal training in actual death investigation.  The same can be said for other states like Missouri where they are coroners, most are funeral directors and are elected and again, they don't have much formal training in death investigation.  This differs from other jurisdictions where they have formally trained death investigators that work for the medical examiner.  I worked in such an office while training in forensic medicine in Kansas City.  We had forensic pathologists (doctors) who did the autopsy work and death investigators who worked for the office and went out to all death scenes and reported their findings back to the doctor.  If the doctor was ever needed at the scene, they were always available.  Some states are entirely medical examiner systems, like New Mexico where the Office of the Chief Medical Investigator covers the whole state and they have trained field death investigators covering all parts of the state.  If Justice Scalia had died, say in Nevada or Oklahoma (both state ME systems) a trained death investigator would have gone to the scene.  They would have conducted a good investigation and reported it back to the main office where a decision would have been made to do or not do an autopsy.  Maybe they would have at least transported his body in to look at it externally and determine if an autopsy was needed, but at least an external exam could have been done in conjunction with the scene investigation.  In reality, with all the pre-existing conditions Justice Scalia had, there really is no need to do an autopsy.  But with his high profile, at least a death investigator should have gone to the scene and perhaps followed by an external exam by a forensic pathologist should have been conducted.  That would calm many worries and misunderstandings that has now lead to rumors throughout the country and DC.  

Our death investigation system is way behind the times and I see it all the time with families I consult with who hire us to look into their loved ones death.  Sadly, I don't see it being fixed anytime soon or even in my lifetime. 

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