Probe Finds ‘Deep Dysfunction’ in U.S. System of Death Investigations


Real-world post-mortems have little in common with the fictionalized accounts in novels and on TV shows like “CSI,” where skilled medical professionals equipped with sophisticated tools thoroughly investigate each suspicious fatality. In fact, the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices add up to a deeply dysfunctional system that literally buries its mistakes, according to a joint investigation by ProPublica, PBS “Frontline” and NPR.

Blunders by doctors in America’s morgues have put innocent people in prison cells, allowed the guilty to go free, and left some cases so muddled that prosecutors could do nothing. More than one in five physicians working in the country’s busiest morgues — including the chief medical examiner of Washington, D.C. — are not board certified in forensic pathology, the branch of medicine focused on the mechanics of death, our investigation found. Experts say such certification ensures that doctors have at least a basic understanding of the science, and it should be required for practitioners employed by coroner and medical examiner offices.

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