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MIDDLESEX COUNTY
MEDICAL EXAMINER'S OFFICE

Middlesex County, New Jersey

Frequently Asked Questions

Who has access to the autopsy report?
In accordance with NJAC 13:49 - 3.1:

a. The records that are required by law to be made, maintained or kept by the County or State Medical Examiner are the Report of Investigation by Medical Examiner, the inventory of property of value, the autopsy report, including its findings and conclusions, and the results of external examinations upon the bodies of deceased persons. Not included within this definition are any records or portions thereof which contain opinions, subjective evaluations or critical analyses.
b. The medical examiner shall, upon request, make available for inspection during regular business hours the records required to be made, maintained or kept as defined by (a) above and shall produce copies of the requested records upon payment of such reasonable fee as may be provided by this chapter, except as otherwise provided by:

1. The Right to Know Law, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 et seq.;
2. Laws covering confidentiality of records such as the AIDS Assistance Law, N.J.S.A. 5C-1 et seq.;
3. Any other law requiring confidentiality of records;
4. The status of an ongoing investigation as defined by Executive Order No. 123 (1985); or
5. Whenever medical examiner's records are not yet complete.

c. Any other records that satisfy the common law definition of a "public record" which may exist in the medical examiner's file may be inspected or copied with the exceptions as noted above in (b) provided the requestor is able to demonstrate that his or her particular interest outweighs the need of the agency and/or the public interest in confidentiality. The propriety of the party's interest in these records shall be determined by the authorized county medical examiner in consultation with the State Medical Examiner whose final determination shall be binding. The next-of-kin of the decedent, immediate family members, physicians who treated the decedent for his or her last illness or injury, the decedent's legal representative, law enforcement agencies, or attorneys or insurance companies representing parties in litigation arising form the incident that caused the decedent's death are presumed to have a proper interest in these records.
d. In the event that the requestor is unable to demonstrate a proper interest, the County or State Medical Examiner may advise the requestor to seek a court ordered release of records.
e. Notwithstanding (b) and (c) above, if the death has been referred to the county prosecutor or Attorney General may disclose the autopsy findings. When a party seeks the autopsy report in connection with pending or future criminal litigation, the county prosecutor of Attorney General shall provide the report through the discovery process, in accordance with court rules, of before discovery is undertaken if the prosecutor or Attorney General deems it appropriate.

(f) Notwithstanding (c) and (d) above, the autopsy report may be furnished to any person upon written authority of the decedent's next-of-kin or legal representative, unless the death has been referred to the county prosecutor or Attorney General for continuing criminal investigation.

Who is considered the next-of-kin?
In the following order:

1. the spouse,
2. an adult son or daughter,
3. either parent,
4. an adult brother or sister,
5. a guardian of the person of the decedent at the time of the decedent's death, or
6. any other person authorized or under the obligation to dispose of the body - e.g. executor of estate.

How can I obtain a copy of the report?
Send a written request to the Middlesex County Medical Examiner's Office, 1490 Livingston Avenue, North Brunswick, NJ 08902. Your request must include:

  • Your name, and complete address
  • The name of the deceased and date of death
  • Your relationship to the deceased
  • The original signature of the requesting party

Can I request copies of records via fax or e-mail?
Unfortunately, we cannot honor fax or e-mail requests for medical records at this time.

How much does it cost for a copy of the records?
There is a charge of $10.00 minimum for pages 1 through 5 (each additional page shall be $2.00 per page), payable to "Middlesex County Treasurer". Reports typically range from seven to ten pages.

Should I send money now?
Do not include payment with your initial request. When your request is received, the status of the report is checked. If the report is complete, you will receive an invoice stating the amount due. If the report is not complete, your request will be held on file and you will be notified once it is completed.

Who can I call if I have questions about an autopsy report I have received?
Contact the Chief Medical Examiner's Office at (732) 745-3190 and ask for the pathologist who performed the autopsy.

How can I get a copy of a Death Certificate?
The Medical Examiner's Office cannot provide copies of death certificates by law. Copies of death certificates must be obtained from the Registrar of Vital Statistics of the town in which the death occurred.

How do I make arrangements for a body to be released from the Medical Examiner's Office?
The family claiming the body should contact a funeral home of their choice. The funeral home will contact this office and make arrangements for the body to be picked up. Usually the body is available for release within a day of the death, however, the body may remain at Middlesex County Medical Examiner's Office while the family is completing their arrangements. There is no pressure on the family to have a body removed.

What if the funeral is being held out of state?
Families who wish to have the funeral and burial in another state should contact their funeral director of choice in that state. Most funeral directors have professional connections with funeral directors here in New Jersey. Any out of state funeral director who has questions on how to proceed may call Middlesex County Medical Examiner's Office at (732) 745-3190 for assistance.

Why is an investigation necessary?
In New Jersey, a person's doctor does not sign a death certificate if the death falls under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner or if he is not treating the patient for the natural disease that caused the patient's death. Investigations, are performed by trained Medicolegal Investigators under the supervision of medical doctors with specialized training in pathology and forensic pathology.

There is no charge to the family for these services.

What happens during an investigation?
The Medical Examiner assumes charge of the body, may review past medical history, may speak to the family about the deceased and may retain items related to the death or give these items to law enforcement. Any valuables that accompany the body to the Medical Examiner's Office are usually handed over to the funeral home, or may be returned to the family. Some Questions asked of the family are to provide medical information for the Medical Examiner, while other questions are asked for death certification purposes.

Is an autopsy always required?
When reasonable doubt about the cause or the circumstances of death exists or for other legal purposes, an autopsy will be performed by the Medical Examiner. In some cases, an autopsy is not necessary because the deceased has documented natural disease that is likely to cause death and the circumstances surrounding the death support his known disease state. In those cases an external examination is performed. Although permission for an autopsy by the next-of-kin is not required, the Medical Examiner will take all necessary steps to insure that the family is aware that an autopsy will be performed and the reason an autopsy may be necessary. All objections to the autopsy will be carefully discussed with the family.

What benefits are derived from an autopsy?
The autopsy can help answer future questions for the family or for future litigation concerning the death, if it arises. It may discover an undiagnosed medical condition which can provide important health information for other family members.

Does an autopsy interfere with viewing and funeral arrangements?

The incisions made during an autopsy are unobtrusive and therefore will not interfere with a viewing. In most instances, the body will be released the day following the discovery of death and there should be ample time to prepare the body for any funeral arrangements. Autopsy does not preclude the embalming procedure.

What about organ and tissue donation?
Following family's wishes, whenever possible, the Medical Examiner will allow removal of organs for transplant or harvesting of tissues such as bone and corneas.

Medical Examiner Law

JURISDICTION: The Middlesex County Medical Examiner's Office functions under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey State Medical Examiner Act 52:17B - 78 et seq.

EXAMINATIONS, INVESTIGATIONS AND AUTOPSIES: In any of the following circumstances involving the death of a human being, the Medical Examiner of the county in which the death occurred or the body was found shall determine the cause of death and shall make or have performed such examinations, investigations and autopsies as he/she shall deem necessary.

When any person dies in the State. (N.J.S.A. 52:17B-86) An investigation shall be conducted in the manner hereinafter described in the case of all human deaths from the following causes:

a. Violent deaths, whether apparently homicidal, suicidal or accidental, including but not limited to death due to thermal, chemical, electrical or radiation injury and deaths due to criminal abortion, whether apparently self-induced or not;
b. Deaths not caused by readily recognizable disease, disability or infirmity;

c. Deaths under suspicious or unusual circumstances;
d. Deaths within 24 hours after admission to a hospital or institution;
e. Deaths of inmates of prisons;
f. Deaths of inmates of institutions maintained in whole or in part at the expense of the State or county, where the inmate was not hospitalized therein for organic disease ;
g. Deaths from causes which might constitute a threat to public health;
h. Deaths related to disease resulting from employment or to accident while employed; and
i. Sudden or unexpected deaths of infants and children under 3 years of age and fetal deaths occurring without medical attendance.