“Autopsy Reports?

Apologies for the delay since my last post. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to catch up on emails and responding to comments. I’ve included one comment in particular (along with my response) that dealt with some issues I haven’t discussed before that may be of interest.

I found this article very interesting. I am looking into the death of my son, who died of an accidental overdose of morphine 2% ug/ml and codeine ug/ml. The corners’ report states he died between 0500 of 9/6 and 1320 9/7.

Liver mortis as positioned fixed; rigor mortis full body. There is as a statement of skin slippage. Dark gray discoloration around his neck.

He checked into a hotel, but had no identification.

There is more information if this would help assist in determining just what happened. You see he died in 1995 with no one in his family being notified. He was not married. And had left my home on 9/1/95 over 1200 miles from where he died.

Thank you for you response.



Based on what you included in your email, there are a few basic observations I can make. I’m reluctant to speak with too much authority on the circumstances since obviously I wasn’t involved in the entire investigation. If I did, it would be a gross misrepresentation of my abilities, if not downright fraudulent.

Most coroners rely heavily on the particular amount of a substance in someone’s system when it comes to classifying the manner of death. A level that is classified as accidental is typically a range that is considered by the toxicological professional community as a level that is just above a recreational/therapeutic level. These levels are typically seen in those individuals with an extended history of substance abuse.

Suicidal or homicidal levels are generally considered to be those levels that are much higher than accidental levels. In those cases, the person dispensing the amount of the substance necessary to precipitate death wants to be sure they administer enough to “get the job done.?

As far as the “time of death? is concerned, it’s not uncommon for there to be a very large window of time in which the death is stated to have occurred. I would assume that your son was found at 1320 on 9/7 and last known alive around 0500 on 9/6 when he was last seen by another person or possibly that was the time he checked in. As such, the coroner is only able to state positively that the death occurred within that time frame.

Television dramas tend to give the impression that coroners are able to pinpoint time of death with great accuracy and in reality that simply isn’t the case. The most accurate “time of death? is when a doctor or nurse is present at the exact moment death is pronounced or when someone dies instantly in a witnessed event like a car crash or a shooting. Beyond that, most estimations of time of death are based on observations and experience and become more speculative the longer the person has been deceased. For more on the difficulty of establishing an exact time of death, please refer to my post “Postmortem Interval?.

The notations of rigor and livor may help narrow this window somewhat, but their value depends on when they were observed. If they are observed at the scene, they are very relevant. If they aren’t observed until the body is seen at the morgue by the coroner, they are of very little value considering it may be the next day or the body may have spent time in the cooler before the coroner sees it. As such, the time lapse and the cooler temperature can affect the relevance of postmortem changes.

I’m afraid I haven’t been much help or added anything worthwhile, but I at least wanted to provide you with some insight. As you continue your search for answers, please keep in mind that autopsy reports are very effective for determining the cause of death but are very ineffective when it comes to answering the “why? and “how? questions that the living desperately seek answers to when coping with the loss of a loved one.

Personally, I haven’t been in the very unfortunate position that you have been placed in. I have however had the opportunity to work with countless family members in your position with questions that are difficult—and in some cases impossible—to answer. Good luck to you.

A Douglas


4 Responses to “”

  1. December 18, 2005 at 11:22 am

    So sorry, J. Losing a son must be one of the most heartwrenching things. My prayer for you is that you will find peace and comfort.

  2. 2 B
    December 23, 2005 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Douglas,

    Stopped by to say Happy Holidays. Your post here is, as always, thoughtful and undoubtedly helpful. I have always admired how you demonstrate that compassion and objectivity don’t have to be at odds with one another. Have a great holiday – I look forward to reading more from you in the new year.

  3. December 27, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    J, hope you get all the answers you need.

    Douglas, an interesting and enlightening post as usual. Your comments thing has been playing up lately BTW.

  4. 4 Marty
    January 4, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    I enjoy your blog. I check it every few days for updates and enjoy them all. Thanks.

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