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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why is the State Medical Examiner's Office involved?

Alaska State law requires the State Medical Examiner to investigate the circumstances and determine the cause and manner of death in all deaths that are:

  • Sudden, when a person is in apparent good health.
  • Not under the care of a physician.
  • Suspicious, unusual or unexplained.
  • All deaths that are not due to a natural cause (accidents, homicides, suicides etc.)
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Q. Where will my relative/friend be taken?

The deceased will be taken to the State Medical Examiner's Office, 5455 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, Anchorage, Alaska. They will remain there until examination of the body is complete. Upon completion, the deceased will be held by the State Medical Examiner's Office until a signed Release Authorization is received from the next-of-kin. Investigation may continue after the release. If the next-of-kin fails to complete a release authorization within 10 days then the body will be released to a funeral home on rotation and handled as an unclaimed remain.
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Q. Will an autopsy be performed?

When a body is brought into the State Medical Examiner’s Office, either an external examination or an autopsy will be performed. An autopsy is a medical examination that includes removal of the internal organs; an external examination is a medical examination that does not include removal of the organs. Both autopsies and external examinations are routinely performed to determine the cause and manner of death. Final determination of the level of examination is determined by the assigned pathologist.
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Q. Can I refuse an autopsy?

The next-of-kin has the right to make their wishes known and every consideration will be given to religious and cultural concerns; however, the final determination as to whether or not an autopsy is to be performed rests with the State Medical Examiner’s Office.  
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Q. Will I still be able to have an open casket service if an autopsy is performed?

Yes - autopsies are performed in a professional manner that does not interfere with the viewing of the deceased.
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Q. Do I have to pay for an autopsy?

No - there is no charge to families for an autopsy or transportation to Anchorage and return to the community nearest the place of death.  If a family chooses to use a funeral home or have the body transported to a location other than the place of death there may be charges for the additional costs of transportation or services provided by a funeral home.
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Q. Am I required to use a funeral home?

There is no legal requirement for the use of a funeral home. The State Medical Examiner’s Office (SMEO) does not embalm or provide other funeral home services. At the direction of the next of kin, the SMEO can release remains directly to the family or to a funeral home. Funeral homes are often able to make the body more presentable and therefore help prevent additional trauma to the family. The SMEO pays for remains to be shipped back to the community nearest death. If a request is made to ship remains to a different community, and there are additional costs, the family would be responsible for the additional cost.
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Q. What is a Burial Transit Permit and how do I obtain one?

A Burial Transit Permit is required to transport human remains. If the next of kin chooses to designate someone other than a funeral home to pick up the remains, a Burial Transit Permit will be  issued thru the Medical Examiner’s Office at the time the remains are picked up. There is no charge for a Burial Transit Permit.
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Q. Who pays for funeral services (embalming, casket, etc.)?              

The family is responsible for all costs associated with a funeral and preparing the body for burial and or viewing, including embalming. The State Medical Examiner’s Office is only responsible to pay for transportation to Anchorage for examination and return to the community nearest the place of death. The Division of Public Assistance (907-269-6599) may be able to assist with other expenses if the decedent qualifies.  
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Q. Who contacts the funeral home?

TThe family or legal representative is responsible to select and contact the funeral home.  Once you have selected a funeral home, please let them know that the body is under the jurisdiction of the State Medical Examiner's Office. They can assist you in completing a Release Authorization authorizing the State Medical Examiner’s Office to release the deceased to the selected funeral home. You may also obtain the release form on the State Medical Examiner’s web site, or it can be emailed or faxed directly to you if you call (907)334-2200. Once a completed release form is received, the Medical Examiner's Office will contact the funeral home when the body is ready for release.
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Q. How long will it take before the deceased is released from the Medical Examiner's Office?

The State Medical Examiner’s Office attempts to release the deceased as soon as possible after the examination is complete. This usually occurs the same day or next day after completion of the examination as long as a Release Authorization has been received. In cases where a funeral home is not being used, and the remains are being shipped by common carrier, every attempt is made to have shipping arrangements made as quickly as possible, however, this is dependent on the airline’s schedule..
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Q. Is it necessary for me to come to the Medical Examiner's Office to view the body?

No - in the majority of cases, visual identification is not required. If visual identification is required, you will be notified by the State Medical Examiner's Office.
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Q. Is viewing or visitation allowed while the body is under the State Medical Examiner's jurisdiction?

No - The State Medical Examiner's Office is not designed to handle visitation. Arrangements for viewing can be made with your funeral home, if selected.
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Q. Can a State Medical Examiner's case still be an organ or tissue donor?

Yes - The State Medical Examiner’s Office works closely with local tissue and organ procurement agencies. The Medical Examiner determines the appropriateness of the organ/tissue recovery and can deny the request, but every effort is made to allow for donation.
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Q. How do I obtain a certified copy of the death certificate?

The State Medical Examiner's Office does not issue copies of the death certificate. If using a funeral home, copies can be requested from the funeral home when arrangements are made. Additionally, copies can be obtained from Bureau of Vital Statistics (907-465-3391).
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Q.When will the autopsy report be ready and how do I obtain a copy?

Autopsy reports are available to the next-of-kin upon written request as soon as the case is closed. This may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks but on rare occasions more complicated cases or cases requiring additional testing can take longer. Please submit your request in writing using the State Medical Examiner’s Office “Document Request” form available on the State Medical Examiner’s web page or by calling 907-334-2200 for a faxed or mailed copy of the form. A legible copy of photo identification must be received with the completed form for the request to be processed.
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If you have further questions or did not find the information you needed contact the State Medical Examiner’s Office at (907) 334-2200.