The IOSME provides forensic autopsy and investigative services when requested by county medical examiners. Our mission is to establish credibility in death investigation in a system that will operate efficiently and serve the needs of the citizens of Iowa. The IOSME also provides support, guidance, education, consultation, and training to the county medical examiners and investigators who are responsible for investigating violent, suspicious, and unexpected natural deaths.
Our goal is to determine an unbiased and logical cause and manner of death. The information gathered during a forensic death investigation and subsequent autopsy is critical to many civil and criminal court cases. This information will also help us provide answers to assist you in understanding your loved one’s death.
If you have questions or concerns about the autopsy process, please call us at 515-725-1400 during business hours (8:00 am–4:30 pm). We are here to answer any questions you may have.
The IOSME does not accommodate viewings. Please coordinate with your funeral home of choice to arrange a viewing once your loved one has been released from our office.
A properly completed death certificate is usually necessary to claim insurance, receive government benefits, settle the estate, and pursue any civil or criminal legal action.
Medical benefits provided by a forensic autopsy include a medical determination of the cause of death, recognition of unsuspected illness, identification of public health hazards, and sometimes confirmation of the identity of the deceased.
Once the medical examiner determines the cause and manner of death, the State Registrar will finalize the death certificate and the funeral home can obtain the death certificate for you.
The forensic pathologist may be called upon to provide relevant testimony regarding the cause and manner of death, as well as interpretation of injuries, in a court of law.
You will need to select a funeral home to assist you with making funeral arrangements and coordinating the final disposition of your loved one’s remains. Once you have chosen a funeral home, the funeral director will contact the State Medical Examiner's Office to arrange for transportation of your loved one’s remains to the funeral home following the autopsy.
Begin a file to collect all paperwork and information that will be given to you by various agencies regarding your loved one’s passing.
In this time of stress, realize that there are community resources to assist you with this difficult time. Grief and bereavement resources may be found on the Iowa Funeral Directors Association website.
In Iowa, any death that is violent, suspicious, sudden, or unexpected must be investigated by an county-appointed medical examiner. This includes any death that is not attended by a physician.
A county medical examiner is a physician licensed within the state of Iowa and appointed by his or her respective County Board of Supervisors to conduct investigations necessary to determine the cause and manner of death of individuals who die under violent, sudden, or unexpected circumstances [Iowa Code 331.802(3)]. A county medical examiner investigator is a trained death investigator who assists the county medical examiner in performing these duties.
The county medical examiner is called to the scene of death to examine the deceased and investigate the circumstances surrounding a death. The county medical examiner or their investigator interviews witnesses and family members, photographs the scene, and determines the need for an autopsy.
An autopsy is a systematic examination of a body to determine cause and manner of death. A complete forensic autopsy includes an external examination, internal examination, and review of available information such as medical records and law enforcement reports. Tissue or fluid specimens are also be tested for drugs and alcohol. In cases of death resulting from violence, evidence may be collected and later examined by the state crime laboratory.
The autopsy and ancillary tests usually do not delay the release of the body to the next-of-kin. However, the final results and completion of the autopsy report may take 60–90 days.
A complete autopsy examination can help determine details necessary for determining the manner of death and provide information that may need to be presented in court. For example, details in an autopsy report may include determination of direction of the wound, extent of injury, number of wounds, and range of fire (distance from muzzle to victim). Specimens are acquired during the autopsy and retained for testing of drugs and alcohol, or other diagnostic medical testing. The autopsy will exclude alternative causes of death.
Our office works closely with the Iowa Donor Network to arrange for organ and/or tissue donation. The need for an autopsy does not necessarily preclude organ or tissue donation. Although extenuating circumstances may prevent donation, all eligible donors will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
If you are interested in donation, please contact either Iowa Donor Network or our facility prior to autopsy.