Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME)
The Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) is a statewide system that is charged with the investigation of sudden, unexpected and violent deaths. The office was established as a state agency in July 1968. It is located in Augusta on Hospital Street, behind the State Police Crime Laboratory. The staff consists of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, an administrator, one Senior Forensic Technician, two Medico-Legal Death Investigators, three Administrative Support Staff, one Records Coordinator, and three Medical Examiner Assistants.
The Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, was appointed by Governor LePage in June 2014. Over 50 physicians who are trained medical examiners volunteer to serve the state and are appointed by the Chief Medical Examiner to function in their local communities.
The OCME is dedicated to providing the citizens of Maine with comprehensive, scientific, forensic investigation of deaths that fall within the jurisdiction of the office, determined by state statute (Title 22, Chapter 711, MEDICAL EXAMINER ACT). Approximately 3,000 deaths are reported to the OCME each year. After initial investigation, the office accepts jurisdiction in approximately 1,350 cases, providing complete death investigation and determining the cause and manner of death. When necessary, autopsies are performed to assist in that determination.
Investigations may include interactions with law enforcement officers, scene visits, review of medical records, pharmacy records, photographs, and telephone interviews with family and physicians, as well as external examination of the bodies, autopsies and toxicological and other laboratory tests when indicated. The investigation of sudden unexplained deaths in infants includes a reenactment whenever possible.
The purpose of the investigation is to obtain, as complete as possible, a thorough understanding of all the events associated with and potentially contributing to the death.
Office of Chief Medical Examiner
37 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
Phone: (207) 624-7180
FAX: (207) 624-7178
Helpful Facts and Information
- What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is a surgical procedure, which consists of a thorough external and internal examination of the deceased. Internal organs are inspected for indications of injury or natural disease. Various tissue and fluid specimens may be collected to help determine the cause and manner of death. Tissues and, in a few specific types of cases, whole organs may be retained by the OCME for diagnostic testing. These specimens are subsequently destroyed in the same manner as surgical specimens in a hospital, unless other arrangements have been made by the next-of-kin. An autopsy does NOT interfere with the final viewing and funeral of the deceased.
- Does the Medical Examiner need permission to conduct an autopsy?
No. The law specifically gives the Medical Examiner authority to conduct whatever investigation is deemed necessary to determine the cause and manner of death in cases that are within the scope of the statute. However, religious or other objections raised by the next-of-kin will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The OCME is respectful of the wishes of the family and, in some cases, may be able to accommodate them.
- Is an autopsy always necessary?
No. The OCME will decide whether one is necessary after gathering some initial information concerning the death. An autopsy may not be required when adequate history exists to document the illness or injury leading to the death.
In those cases an external examination and collecting fluid samples for drug testing may be all that is needed. Should an autopsy be deemed necessary, however, the deceased will be transported to the OCME in Augusta. In most cases, information gathered from an autopsy will not only establish the cause and manner of death but may also assist in the grieving process, uncover familial (genetic) diseases, provide evidence for settlement of death benefits, and aid in adjudication of criminal cases.
- How is the deceased transported to the OCME?
Local funeral homes provide transportation service at State expense. If you have already chosen a local funeral home, they will be contacted first. In some cases the OCME investigators may do the transport.
- Do I need to come to the OCME to make identification?
No. Typically, identification is made at the place of death by a friend or family member or by comparison with a photo-identification. In rare cases, a family member or close friend may be required to view photographs of the deceased to confirm identification.
Confirmation of identity in persons not visually identifiable is achieved through either dental examination, x-rays, fingerprint comparison, DNA comparison, or other forensic techniques. In some instances, identification is established by using individual, unique characteristics such as scars, tattoos, or certain medical devices).
- Can the deceased be viewed at the OCME?
No. Unfortunately, the OCME does not have the facility or the staff to accommodate viewing requests. The deceased may be viewed in a more appropriate environment, such as a licensed funeral home or crematorium.
- Who pays for an autopsy?
All autopsy expenses, including transport of the body to and from the OCME are borne by the state; there are no charges to the family.
- What happens to the deceased after the autopsy?
If you are not from Maine you may wish to select a local funeral home from your hometown to assist you. They will contact a Maine funeral home and work together to meet your family's needs.
- How long will the deceased stay at the OCME?
In most cases, the deceased can be released to a funeral home immediately following the autopsy, usually within 24 to 48 hours of arrival at OCME. However, the deceased may remain at OCME longer in order to make the necessary funeral arrangements.
- What happens to personal property?
When an autopsy will not be performed, the personal property on the deceased at the time of death is normally removed and released to the family or law enforcement. If an autopsy is performed, the personal property will be transported to the OCME along with the deceased and are typically released with the deceased to the funeral home following the autopsy. In certain instances involving potential criminal conduct the personal effects may be considered "evidence" and are turned over to the investigating law enforcement agency.
- How can I obtain an autopsy report?
Following autopsy, a final report will not be available until all diagnostic testing is complete. Typically this requires several weeks; in some cases it may be a month or longer. Autopsy reports, except in cases of homicides, may be requested by the next-of-kin. Under Maine law, the next-of-kin is defined as; partner, adult child, parent, adult sibling (in order of priority). Requests for reports can be faxed or mailed to the OCME and should include the following information: 1. The name of the deceased 2. The date of death 3. The requestor's full name, address and relationship to the deceased. All reports are mailed by the OCME and cannot be faxed.
- How much does the autopsy report cost?
There is no charge to next-of-kin for an autopsy report. All other parties must provide a fee (currently $35.00 for report of autopsy and $15.00 for report of examination); checks must be made payable to “Treasurer State of Maine”.
- Who grants permission for organ or tissue donation?
Only the next-of-kin can grant permission to the organ procurement agency for organ or tissue donation. In rare instances, to protect certain forensic evidence, the Medical Examiner may have to disallow certain aspects of the organ or tissue procurement procedure.
- Why do I need to wait 2 days for cremation?
Due to the irreversible nature of cremation, Maine law requires a 48-hour waiting period from the time of death until cremation can occur. Before a cremation can occur, the deceased must be examined by a Medical Examiner. The examination is arranged by the funeral home or crematory. A Medical Examiner fee for this approval is currently $25.00.
- I need a copy of the completed death certificate. What should I do?
Contact the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Vital Records at the following telephone number: 1-207-287-3181. Or go to the official web site: Vital Records.
- The death certificate I received indicates that the case is Pending. I need a Cause of Death for the insurance. What should I do?
Contact the office. A staff member will help you determine the best way to satisfy the insurance company. Sometimes a telephone call will allow them to process the case. If they need the final cause of death, it may take a few months for all the reports to be available and the case completed. If we have a formal request from the insurance company, we will send them the reports as soon as they are available.