The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) is the State agency responsible for determining the cause and manner of sudden, unexpected or unnatural deaths falling under its jurisdiction (NH RSA 611-B:11).
The Chief Medical Examiner (CME), Deputy Chief Medical Examiner (DCME) and Associate Medical Examiner (AME) are licensed physicians certified by the American Board of Pathology in forensic pathology. They perform or oversee all of the autopsies for the OCME. Assistant Deputy Medical Examiners (ADMEs) are investigators for the OCME. They respond to death scenes, collect information about the circumstances of death, perform an external examination of the deceased and relay their findings to the forensic pathologist. ADMEs must be trained in forensic death investigation and have background or training in the field of medicine. Qualified persons are appointed by and serve under the supervision of the Chief Medical Examiner.
No. By law (NH RSA 611-B:11), only certain deaths must be reported.
An autopsy is a surgical procedure, which consists of a thorough external and internal examination of the deceased. Internal organs are inspected for indications of injury or natural disease processes. Various tissues and fluid specimens may be collected to determine the cause and manner of death. Tissues and, in a few specific types of cases, whole organs may be retained by OCME for diagnostic testing. These specimens are subsequently destroyed in the same manner as surgical specimens in a hospital, unless other arrangements have been made by the next-of-kin. An autopsy does NOT interfere with the final viewing and funeral of the deceased.
No. The OCME will decide whether one is necessary after gathering some initial information concerning the death. An autopsy may not be required when adequate medical history exists to document the illness or injury leading to the death and there are no signs of foul play. In these cases an external examination and collecting samples for drug testing may be all that is necessary. Should an autopsy be deemed necessary, however, the deceased will be transported to the OCME autopsy facility at Concord Hospital. In most cases, information gathered from an autopsy will not only establish the cause and manner of death but may also assist in the grieving process, reveal familial diseases, provide evidence for settlement of death benefits and aid in adjudication of criminal cases.
Autopsies are performed at State expense.
No. However, if religious or other objections are raised by the next-of-kin, they will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The OCME is respectful of the wishes of the family and, in some cases, may be able to accommodate them. Autopsies are required on all homicide victims.
Only the next-of-kin can grant permission to the organ procurement agency for organ or tissue donation. In rare instances, to protect certain forensic evidence, the Medical Examiner may disallow certain aspects of the organ or tissue procurement procedure. The ADME will notify the organ procurement agency where appropriate.
Local funeral homes provide transportation service at State expense. If you have already chosen a local funeral home, they will be contacted first.
No. Typically, identification is made at the place of death by a friend or family member or by comparison with a photo-identification. In rare cases, a family member or close friend may be required to view photographs of the deceased to confirm identification. Identification of persons not visually identifiable is achieved through dental examination, x-rays, fingerprint comparison or other forensic techniques. In some instances, identification is established using facts gathered by the ADME together with individual, unique characteristics of the deceased (scars, tattoos, etc.).
When an autopsy will not be performed, personal property on the deceased at the time of death is normally left with the deceased at the funeral home. If an autopsy will be performed, the personal property is normally transported to the OCME along with the deceased. Such property may include photo-identification (such as a driver's license), prescription medications and other personal items on or associated with the deceased. The identification and medications are retained at the OCME. Other personal items are typically released with the deceased to the funeral home following the autopsy. In certain cases involving potential criminal conduct, personal effects are considered "evidence" and are transferred to the investigating law enforcement agency.
No. Unfortunately, the OCME does not have the facility or the staff to accommodate viewing requests. The deceased may be viewed in a more appropriate environment, such as a licensed funeral home or crematorium. Arrangements for viewing should be made with your funeral director.
In most cases, the deceased can be released to a funeral home immediately following the autopsy, usually within 24 to 48 hrs of arrival at OCME.
NH law permits the next-of-kin to claim and transport their loved one without the assistance of a funeral home. However, most families contact a funeral home or cremation service to make appropriate arrangements for transportation, memorial, burial and crematory services. If you are not from NH, you may wish to select a local funeral home from your hometown to assist you. They will contact a NH funeral home and work together to meet your family's needs.
Due to the irreversible nature of cremation, New Hampshire law requires a 48-hour waiting period between the time of death and cremation. Before a cremation can occur, the deceased must be examined by a Medical Examiner. The examination is arranged by the funeral home or crematory
Following autopsy, an initial verbal report will be provided to the next-of-kin by telephone. Final written reports, however, will not be available until all diagnostic testing is complete. Typically this requires several weeks to a few months. Autopsy reports, except in the case of homicides, may be requested by the next-of-kin as defined under RSA 290:16,IV (hierarchical order- spouse or legal partner, adult child, parent, adult sibling).
Requests can be faxed or mailed to the OCME and should include the following information:
A request form is available at https://www.doj.nh.gov/medical-examiner/ All reports are mailed and cannot be faxed.
There is no charge to next-of-kin for an autopsy report.
In most cases the funeral director will provide certified copies of the death certificate to the next-of-kin. Death certificates can also be obtained directly from the any town or city clerk in the State or from:
NH Department Of State
Division Of Vital Records Administration
9 Ratification Way
Concord, New Hampshire 03301-2410
(In State toll free) 800-852-3345 x4651
In some cases a pending death certificate will be issued initially. Once all test results are available, a final amended death certificate will be prepared and the next-of-kin notified by telephone.
You are welcome to call the office at (603)271-1235 with any other questions. Additional information and a variety of resources are available to help you through this difficult time. Some of these can be found on our website https://www.doj.nh.gov/medical-examiner/. More services are available at https://www.211nh.org/ or simply by dialing 2-1-1. If you are experiencing an actual emergency call 9-1-1.
New Hampshire Department of Justice
33 Capitol Street | Concord, NH | 03301