Medical Examiner FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Medical Examiner

Q.

What is the purpose of the Pottawattamie County Medical Examiner Office?

A.

The Pottawattamie County Medical Examiner’s Office serves the living by investigating sudden and unexpected deaths and, in particular, those that occur under violent or suspicious circumstances. The duties, responsibilities, and qualifications for the County Medical Examiner’s Office is set out in Iowa Code 331.801 et seq.; this includes investigating all reportable deaths occurring within the county to subsequently determine the cause and manner of death in such cases and to provide formal death certification. 

The Pottawattamie County Medical Examiner’s Office receives reports of death from numerous law enforcement agencies, fire departments, hospitals, hospice agencies, long term care facilities, and funeral homes. All cases are reviewed and appropriate reports are filed based on circumstances.

Q.

What is a coroner versus a medical examiner?

A.

A coroner is an elected official and is not required to be a licensed physician. They determine cause of death, but not manner. Manner is determined by law enforcement officials in a coroner system. A County Medical Examiner in Iowa must be a licensed physician and appointed by the Board of Supervisors in the county they work in, and must be approved by the Iowa State Medical Examiner.  Medical Examiners determine cause and manner of death of individuals in which an investigation is conducted.

Q.

What is a medical examiner investigator?

A.

A medical examiner investigator (MEI) is a trained medicolegal death investigator who assists the Medical Examiner (ME) in the course of investigations.

Q.

Why are natural deaths investigated?

A.

The ME may investigate deaths that include, but are not limited to unexpected deaths, uncertain causes, unattended deaths, uncertain manner, or due to a virulent or contagious disease. 

Q.

What is an autopsy?

A.

An autopsy is a systematic examination of the organs of a body to determine the cause and manner of death and to assess any pathologic changes that may be present. A complete forensic autopsy begins with a thorough review of the decedent’s medical history, when available. The body is examined externally and internally in order to identify and document the presence or absence of disease or injury. Specimens of vital organs and body fluids are tested for drugs and alcohol. In cases of death resulting from violence, evidence may be collected and later examined by the state crime laboratory.

Q.

Why is an autopsy done?

A.

The ME may determine that an autopsy is warranted to obtain further forensic information to determine the cause and manner of death. It may also be required by law due to circumstances surrounding the death. Autopsies are necessary at times when the cause of death may be obvious (i.e. gunshot wound), as the results may provide the necessary information in regards to determining the manner of death, insurance requirements, or legal proceedings.

Q.

Who determines if an autopsy will be conducted?

A.

County medical examiners, county attorneys, and the state medical examiner have the statutory authority and obligation to request that a forensic autopsy be conducted in cases where death is suspected to have arisen from violent, suspicious, or unexpected circumstances, per Iowa Code 331.802 (4).

Q.

Who pays for an autopsy?

A.

The Pottawattamie County Medical Examiner Office will assume responsibility for the cost of an autopsy authorized by the ME, county attorney, or state medical examiner. Should the family choose to have an autopsy conducted privately if the ME does not deem one warranted, the family would be responsible for the cost.

Q.

Where are autopsies conducted?

A.

The Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner in Ankeny conducts all autopsies for Pottawattamie County. 

Q.

How are copies of the autopsy report obtained?

A.

Legally recognized next of kin are able to request a copy of the autopsy report from the Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner.

Q.

How are death certificates obtained?

A.

Copies of the death certificate may be obtained from the funeral service provider who coordinated services for your loved one or from the Pottawattamie County Recorder’s Office.

Q.

How do I report a death?

A.

Please contact 911. Law enforcement will request an MEI in the event a death has been pronounced. 

Q.

Who can pronounce death?

A.

Per Iowa Code 702.8, physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, and emergency medical service (EMS)(under the guidance of the EMS medical director) providers are the only individuals who can pronounce death. 

Key Services & Resources

Phone (712) 328-5837
Chief Medical Examiner: (712) 828-0000
Business Fax: (712) 328-5816
Fax: Cremation Permits: (712) 242-1159
Hours Office Hours:
8:00am to 4:30pm
Monday through Friday

Investigative Hours:
24/7 | 365 days a year
Location Pottawattamie County Courthouse Annex
223 S 6th St
Council Bluffs, IA 51501