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Frequently Asked Questions
Are all deaths in Dauphin County reported to the Coroner's Office?
Pennsylvania Law requires the Coroner to inquire into and determine the manner and cause of sudden deaths where the attending physician is unable to determine the cause of death or the death is the result of homicide, suicide, accidental or undetermined means. It also includes deaths where the deceased has not been seen by a physician recently prior to the death.
All deaths in Dauphin County are not reported to the Coroner's Office. Generally, natural deaths occurring in a hospital or medical facility and/or under a hospice physician's care are not Coroner cases.
Where will the body of my loved one be taken?
The body will be taken to the Dauphin County Forensic Center.
What do I do now?
As soon as possible, a funeral home should be selected to handle the arrangements. When you contact the funeral director, advise them that the deceased is under the jurisdiction of the Coroner's Office. The funeral director will contact our office and make arrangements to have your loved one taken into their care.
What funeral home should I choose?
The Coroner's Office does not make funeral home referrals. Relatives, religious leaders, and the phone directory should be able to assist you in selection. A link to the licensed funeral directors of this county in available in the directory of this site.
Are Autopsies always performed in Coroner's cases?
No. A Coroner's investigation gathers the information concerning the circumstances of death, the medical history, and the social history. If there is sufficient medical history and the circumstances of death are consistent with a death due to the known medical problems, and if there is no evidence of suspicious circumstances, an autopsy is not usually performed. In these cases where there is no autopsy, the Coroner's Office may release the deceased to the funeral home.
If, however, there are any suspicious circumstances or if the circumstances of the death are unusual, an autopsy is usually performed to establish the cause and manner of death.
Can the family request an autopsy?
If the family wants an autopsy for a case that the Coroner has released, they may contact a private pathologist for a private autopsy. There is a fee for private autopsies, which varies depending upon the pathologist. There is no charge to the family for a coroner's autopsy. The decision to perform an autopsy rests with the Coroner's Office. Family objections may be noted, but an autopsy may be required in order to determine the actual cause of death or due to suspicion of violence in the death.
Will an autopsy prevent an open casket funeral?
No. Autopsies are performed in a professional fashion that does not interfere with the viewing of the deceased in a normal manner.
Is it necessary for me to go to the Coroner's Office to identify the body?
No. In most cases visual identification is not required. If it is, you will be notified by the Coroner's Office.
May I come to the Coroner's Office to view the body?
Viewing is generally not allowed at the Coroner's Office. Forensic examinations are generally completed within 24 to 48 hours, and most decedents are released immediately after the examination. Relatives are advised to make arrangements to view their loved one at the funeral home.
Why are medical tubes and other medical devices left in place on the body?
Placement of medical devices is checked and verified at autopsy. The presence of blood and other material is often left on the deceased because it may aid in the investigation.
When will I know the cause of death?
If established after a preliminary Coroner's investigation, forensic examination of the deceased, and review of medical records, the cause of death will generally be available to the relatives within 24 to 48 hours after the death is reported to the Coroner's Office. If further testing and investigation is required, it may take several months before a cause of death is available. In these cases, the initial death certificate will show "Pending" in the cause of death section.
How do I obtain a copy of the death certificate?
Death certificates are not issued to family by the Coroner's Office. You should request copies from the funeral home when arrangements are made. After 30 days, death certificates are available through the Division of Vital Records.
Can a friend make arrangements for the disposition of a decedent if the next-of-kin is unwilling or unable to act?
A friend can only make arrangements for a decedent if the next-of-kin gives written authorization for the friend to act.
How long will it take to get a copy of the Coroner's Report and how can I get a copy?
It may take two to four months for the Coroner's investigation to be completed. Copies of the Coroner's Report and/or Autopsy Report are subject to collection of an established fee. To obtain a copy, please telephone the Coroner's Office at (717) 564-4567 between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
How and when can personal possessions be claimed?
Generally, personal possessions/valuables are released to the funeral home with the deceased's person. Exceptions are with prearranged approval by the Coroner's Office. Clothing is not considered a valuable, and generally will be released to the funeral home. Occasionally clothing needs to be held as evidence or for further investigation. Clothing that presents a health hazard will be disposed of for the safety of all persons involved.
What about organ donation?
Depending upon the circumstances of the death and the approval of the Coroner, tissue/organ donation may be possible to help others. You may be contacted by an tissue/organ donation representative.
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