April 30, 2004
MASSACHUSETTS AUTOPSY RESULTS
By: Kristina Sadlak, Legislative Fellow
You asked if autopsy results are available for public inspection in Massachusetts, and if so, to whom a written request for such information should be forwarded.
By law, autopsy results are not available for public inspection in Massachusetts. They are available only to those legally entitled to receive them (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 38 § 2). Under the chief medical examiner's rules, these are (1) investigatory bodies, (2) spouses and next of kin, and (3) parties in a civil proceeding. The results are available to these people and entities under specific conditions and subject to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's (OME) discretion. They are also available to the attorney general or the district attorney having lawful jurisdiction over the investigation of the death.
In all cases where there has been an unnatural or suspicious death, and where the district attorney or his law enforcement representative is directing the investigation, the official must state in writing that he does not object to disclosure of the report to the requesting party (Mass. Regs. Code tit. 505 § 1.03-1.05). All autopsy results are free, according to the OME.
The OME is at 720 Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118. The phone number is (617) 267-6767, and the fax number is (617) 266-6763.
PEOPLE AND ENTITIES LEGALLY ENTITLED TO RECEIVE AUTOPSY RESULTS
The law requires the chief medical examiner to promulgate rules for the disclosure of autopsy results and allows him to establish fees for providing such results to those legally entitled to receive them (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 38 § 2).
Autopsy results are available to investigatory bodies under the following conditions: (1) the investigatory body must show that the report contains information “relevant, material, and necessary” for a complete and proper investigation, and (2) the OME must issue, with the report, a statement that autopsy reports are not public records and should not be used for any reason not authorized by law (Mass. Regs. Code tit. 505 § 1.05).
An investigatory body means any state, local, federal, or military law enforcement or regulatory agency, except for the attorney general and district attorneys, that oversees, regulates, standardizes, or reviews death investigations (Mass. Regs. Code tit. 505 § 1.02).
Spouses or Next of Kin
The OME may disclose autopsy results to spouses or next of kin if they (1) request the report in writing and (2) provide an affidavit indicating and verifying their relationship to the decedent (Mass. Regs. Code tit. 505 § 1.03).
In civil cases, the OME may provide autopsy reports to any party to a civil proceeding who (1) demonstrates to the court that the autopsy report probably contains “relevant, material, and necessary” information to prepare for or use in litigation and (2) obtains a court order authorizing such disclosure. When any such party requests a report, the OME must have the opportunity to oppose its disclosure and must issue, with the report, a statement that autopsy reports are not public records and should not be used for any reason not authorized by law (Mass. Regs. Code tit. 505 § 1.04).