(a) For purposes of inquiry the coroner shall, within 24 hours or as soon as feasible thereafter, where the suspected cause of death is sudden infant death syndrome and, in all other cases, the coroner may, in his or her discretion, take possession of the body, which shall include the authority to exhume the body, order it removed to a convenient place, and make or cause to be made a postmortem examination, or cause to be made an autopsy thereon, and make or cause to be made an analysis of the stomach, stomach contents, blood, organs, fluids, or tissues of the body. The detailed medical findings resulting from an inspection of the body or autopsy by an examining licensed physician and surgeon shall be either reduced to writing or permanently preserved on recording discs or other similar recording media, shall include all positive and negative findings pertinent to establishing the cause of death in accordance with medicolegal practice and this, along with the written opinions and conclusions of the examining licensed physician and surgeon, shall be included in the coroner’s record of the death. The coroner shall have the right to retain only those tissues of the body removed at the time of the autopsy as may, in his or her opinion, be necessary or advisable to the inquiry into the case, or for the verification of his or her findings. Only individuals who are directly involved in the investigation of the death of the decedent may be present during the performance of the autopsy.
(b) In any case in which the coroner knows, or has reason to believe, that the deceased has made valid provision for the disposition of his or her body or a part or parts thereof for medical or scientific purposes in accordance with Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 7150) of Part 1 of Division 7 of the Health and Safety Code, the coroner shall neither perform nor authorize any other person to perform an autopsy on the body unless the coroner has contacted or attempted to contact the physician last in attendance to the deceased. If the physician cannot be contacted, the coroner shall then notify or attempt to notify one of the following of the need for an autopsy to determine the cause of death: (1) the surviving spouse; (2) a surviving child or parent; (3) a surviving brother or sister; (4) any other kin or person who has acquired the right to control the disposition of the remains. Following a period of 24 hours after attempting to contact the physician last in attendance and notifying or attempting to notify one of the responsible parties listed above, the coroner may authorize the performance of an autopsy, as otherwise authorized or required by law.
(c) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prohibit the discretion of the coroner to cause to be conducted an autopsy upon any victim of sudden, unexpected, or unexplained death or any death known or suspected of resulting from an accident, suicide, or apparent criminal means, or other death, as described in Section 27491.
(Amended by Stats. 2016, Ch. 787, Sec. 1. (SB 1189) Effective January 1, 2017.)
Last modified: October 25, 2018