The Colorado legislature is considering a bill to update the state’s Old West-style coroner system, reports the Associated Press. Colorado’s 63 county coroners are mostly elected and aren’t required to have a medical degree. They operate under laws written in the days when Western coroners did little more than collect bodies after frontier shootouts. To qualify, candidates must be over 18 with a high school diploma or equivalent. Medical training is required later, but it isn’t a prerequisite.
Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming also rely on county coroners rather than state medical examiners. Colorado’s coroners determine cause of death, based on the medical training they take after election. In about 2 percent of cases where the cause is suspect, or the coroners believe more information is needed, a medical examiner is summoned to perform an autopsy. The head of the Colorado Coroners’ Association, Dr. Patrick Allen of Larimer County, said the update is desperately overdue. The bill doesn’t go as far as some wish. The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2009 that coroner systems should be phased out and replaced with board-certified medical examiners. The legislature rejected a 2011 bill to study Colorado’s elected-coroners system.