Frequently Asked Questions
When does the Medical Examiner get involved?
The Medical Examiner’s Office determines whether a death falls within their legal jurisdiction, as outlined in Wisconsin State Statute 979.01. To arrive at this decision may require information from many sources: witnesses, family and friends; information from personal physicians and medical records; information from law enforcement agencies; information from the scene investigation, etc.
The types of deaths that we investigate include:
- All deaths in which there are unexplained, unusual or suspicious circumstances.
- All homicides.
- All suicides.
- All deaths following an abortion.
- All deaths due to poisoning (toxicity), whether homicidal, suicidal, or accidental in nature.
- All deaths following accidents, whether the injury is or is not the primary cause of death.
- When there was no physician, or accredited practitioner of a bona fide religious denomination relying upon prayer or spiritual means for healing, in attendance within 30 days preceding death.
- When a physician refuse to sign the death certificate.
- When, after reasonable efforts, a physician cannot be obtained to sign the medical certification, as required under s. 69.18 (2) (b) or (c), within 6 days after the pronouncement of death, or sooner under circumstances which the Coroner or Medical Examiner will then decide what level of investigation/examination is necessary to determine the cause and manner of death.
Based on the information collected during the death investigation, the Medical Examiner will then consider the facts of each case individually, and determine whether it falls within the legal jurisdiction of the office. If the Dodge County Medical Examiner assumes jurisdiction, the Medical Examiner will then decide what level of investigation/examination is necessary to determine the cause and manner of death.
What is Cause and Manner of Death?
Cause of Death: the natural disease or traumatic injury which initiates the sequence of events resulting in an individual’s death.
Proximate Cause of Death: the disease process or injury which represents the starting point in an unbroken chain of events, ending in death—for example, coronary artery disease, a gunshot wound to the chest, blunt force head trauma, lung carcinoma, etc.
Immediate Cause of Death: the complication or sequelae of the proximate cause of death, which is related to the proximate cause but does not represent an intervening cause of death (“intervening” cause of death=a disease or injury which initiates a new sequence of events leading to death)—for example, a myocardial infarct, pulmonary embolism, aspiration pneumonia, etc.
Manner of Death: a classification of how a cause of death arouse.
Five “Manner” classifications: Natural, Accident, Suicide, Homicide and Undetermined.
When and where do we get the Death Certificate?
Death certificates are issued by the Register of Deeds. Speak with your funeral director and they can obtain copies of the Death Certificate for you. You can also contact the Register of Deeds at (920) 386-3720.
Will an autopsy affect funeral arrangements?
The performance of an autopsy should NOT affect funeral arrangements. The incisions made during autopsy are easily concealed by a competent funeral director and are not visible during the funeral visitation. The performance of the autopsy should not delay the funeral more than twenty-four hours, if at all. The medical examiner’s office makes all possible efforts not to impede the plans of the decedent’s family. Please be aware that exceptions do exist however, notable in cases in which the death is the result of homicide/suspicious circumstances, or in cases in which the medical examiner’s office is not certain of the decedent’s identity (due to decomposition or extensive injuries, for example).
Is an autopsy really necessary?
The medical examiner’s office will consider the facts of each case individually, and determine what level of investigation/examination is necessary to determine the cause and manner of death and to clarify the circumstances surrounding the death. In many cases, this will require the performance of an autopsy. Autopsies are routinely performed on all non-natural deaths such as homicides, suicide, accidents and undetermined deaths. They are also conducted when an apparent natural death where the cause is unclear, and in cases where appropriate toxicology specimens must be collected.
Do we have to pay for an autopsy?
No, if the medical examiner’s office has ordered an autopsy, the office is responsible for its cost. If the office does not feel an autopsy is necessary but the family insists on one, the family may make arrangements for a private autopsy and the family assumes financial responsibility.
Can a “pending” death certificate be used as proof of death?
Yes. “Pending” as a cause and/or manner of death implies that additional studies are necessary, such as drug testing, microscopic tissue examination, etc. A death certificate, even a pending certificate, is a legal document which serves as proof that the named individual has been pronounced dead.