In Tennessee, a medicolegal or forensic autopsy may be ordered by a county medical examiner, the state medical examiner, or by the appropriate district attorney’s office. County medical examiners are physicians appointed to the post who are responsible for certification of cause and manner of death in cases of unusual, unexpected, or unnatural deaths, which include homicides, suicides, accidents, and deaths in otherwise healthy people. Many such cases may require an autopsy for accurate and complete determination of the cause of death.
Once the decision has been made to order an autopsy, the county medical examiner then refers the decedent to a regional forensic center in which the autopsy will be performed by a board-certified forensic pathologist. By law, facilities performing forensic autopsies in the state of Tennessee must be accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), which assures that nationally-accepted standards for our investigations are being satisfied.
When the autopsy has been concluded, a death certificate will be completed by the forensic pathologist to accompany the body to the funeral home. Frequently, additional testing or information will need to be provided in order for a final determination of cause and manner of death to be made. In such circumstances, an initial death certificate reflecting the pending status of the case will be issued, followed by a delayed certification of death indicating the final results of the autopsy and death investigation. Performance of a forensic autopsy will not hinder or delay a funeral, including open-casket services.
After the autopsy and all ancillary testing have been concluded, a formal autopsy report will be issued. This process usually takes several weeks to complete. Although the written autopsy report is considered a matter of public record, photographs taken during the autopsy and death scene investigation are not, and will not be released without an order issued by the court.