Ensure public health and safety by performing autopsies and postmortem examinations to determine cause and manner of death for individuals who die in Cook County
The Medical Examiner’s Office investigates any human death that falls within any or all of the following categories:
- criminal violence
- suddenly when in apparent good condition
- unattended by a practicing licensed physician
- suspicious or unusual circumstances
- criminal abortion
- poisoning or attributable to an adverse reaction to drugs and/or alcohol
- disease constituting a threat to public health
- injury or toxic agent resulting from employment
- during some medical diagnostic or therapeutic procedures
- in any prison or penal institution
- when involuntarily confined in jail, prison hospitals or other institutions or in police custody
- when any human body is to be cremated, dissected or buried at sea
- when a dead body is brought into a new medico-legal jurisdiction without proper medical certification
The Medical Examiner’s Office provides:
- Certificate of Death (to funeral directors for filing with local registrar)
- Autopsy Protocol (description of what is found at autopsy)
- Toxicology Report (lists any foreign substance found in body)
- Special Study Reports (if applicable)
- Cremation Permits (to funeral directors)
As a result of a 1972 referendum, the Office of the Medical Examiner of Cook County was established December 6, 1976, and the Office of the Coroner was abolished. The Office is the only Medical Examiner system in Illinois and covers half the population of the state. The Office of the Medical Examiner plays a vital role in the administration of justice and protection of public health.
A Medical Examiner differs from a Coroner in the following respects:
- A Medical Examiner is an appointed official with necessary qualifications, while a Coroner is an elected official with no required qualifications.
- In Cook County, the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners with the advice and consent of the Board of Commissioners appoints the Medical Examiner.
- The Medical Examiner must be a physician, licensed to practice medicine in the State of Illinois and be certified by the American Board of Pathology in anatomic and forensic pathology.
Robert J. Stein, M.D. was appointed as the first Medical Examiner in 1976 and served until his retirement in 1993. The Cook County Institute of Forensic Medicine, completed in 1983, was renamed the Robert J. Stein Institute of Forensic Medicine in February 1994.
More than 14,000 deaths are reported to the Medical Examiner annually. Of these 4,500 are accepted for further investigation. The office performs autopsies on approximately half of the cases brought into the Institute.