General Laws of Massachusetts - Chapter 38 Medical Examiners and Inquests - Section 4 Investigation; transportation of bodies

Section 4. Upon notification of a death in the circumstances enumerated in section three, the chief medical examiner or his designee shall carefully inquire into the cause and circumstances of the death. If, as a result of such inquiry, the chief medical examiner or such designee is of the opinion that the death was due to violence or other unnatural means or to natural causes that require further investigation, he shall take jurisdiction. The body of the deceased shall not be moved, and the scene where the body is located shall not be disturbed, until either the medical examiner or the district attorney or his representative either arrives at the scene or gives directions as to what shall be done at the scene. In such cases of unnatural or suspicious death where the district attorney’s office is to be notified, the medical examiner shall not disturb the body or the scene without permission from the district attorney or his representative.

The medical examiner shall be responsible for making arrangements for transport of the body. The district attorney or his law enforcement representative shall direct and control the investigation of the death and shall coordinate the investigation with the office of the chief medical examiner and the police department within whose jurisdiction the death occurred. Either the medical examiner or the district attorney in the jurisdiction where death occurred may order an autopsy. Cases requiring autopsy shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the office for such purpose. As part of his investigation, the chief medical examiner or his designee may, in his discretion, notwithstanding any other provision of law, cause the body to be tested by the department of public health for the presence of any virus, disease, infection, or syndrome which might pose a public health risk.

If the medical examiner is unable to respond and take charge of the body of the deceased in an expeditious manner, the chief of police of the city or town wherein the body lies, or his representative, may, after conferring with the appropriate district attorney, move the body to another location until a medical examiner is able to respond. Before moving the body the police shall document all facts relevant to the appearance, condition and position of the body and every fact and circumstance tending to show the cause and circumstances of death.

In carrying out the duties prescribed by this section, the chief medical examiner or his designee shall be entitled to review and receive copies of medical records, hospital records, or information which he deems relevant to establishing the cause and manner of death. No person or hospital shall be subject to liability of any nature for providing such records or information in good faith at the request of the office. The chief medical examiner shall notify the local district attorney of the death of a child immediately following receipt of a report that such a death occurred.

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Last modified: September 11, 2015