The Medical Examiner’s Office fills a vital role with law enforcement and public health for the County of Cook.
One of our most important duties is to the families who have lost a loved one – often suddenly and unexpectedly or without warning. On top of this sudden loss, we understand that for the vast majority of people, this would be the first time they would have to work with our Office.
Whatever the circumstances, we try to work with families to help them through the process as it pertains to our Office and answer as many questions as we can. Our Investigators and clerical staff are excellent in this function, and our staff of Forensic Pathologists can help family members try to understand how the death occurred.
Jurisdiction (Why did our office get involved?)
Under Illinois law and local ordinance, the Medical Examiner is both required and empowered to determine the cause and manner of death. In general, those deaths suspected to be homicides, suicides, accidents, or sudden unexpected natural deaths are investigated by the Medical Examiner’s Office.
An examination will be conducted by a Forensic Pathologist to determine the cause and manner of death, and a death certificate will be completed. This examination normally occurs within two days of our receipt of the decedent’s remains. Our forensic pathologist staff will assess whether an autopsy and/or laboratory tests are required as part of the examination.
An autopsy is a thorough examination of the body, inside and out, performed to document or rule out injuries and diseases. The procedure is performed by a medical doctor with special forensic training in recognizing the appearance of injuries and the effects of diseases. An autopsy may take 2-3 hours or longer to perform and is often followed by laboratory tests, some of which can take months to complete.
In the others, an examination of only the external surfaces of the body is performed.
Personal effects (money, jewelry, wallets, etc.) belonging to the decedent is inventoried by the Medical Examiner’s Office. Property will be turned over to the executor, POA, legal next of kin, or the funeral home retained by the legal next of kin. A photo ID is required. You may be asked to provide a birth certificate, marriage license or other papers to prove relationship. Unclaimed property will be held by the Medical Examiner’s Office for one year and then subject to sale by auction.
After the medical examination is complete, it is sometimes necessary for us to perform further analysis, be it medical or investigative in nature, to determine the exact cause and manner of death. In this instance, a Pending Death Certificate will be issued. Disposition of a decedent may take place with this “Pending” death certificate. Once the Pathologist has determined the final cause of death, the Medical Records Department will notify the funeral home. At this point the funeral home can obtain certified copies of the final death certificate for the family.
A Certification of Death letter can be obtained by coming to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, Medical Records Department. This letter is accepted by some institutions as proof of death.
Obtaining copies of reports and the Death Certificate
Certified copies of death certificates can be obtained by contacting your funeral home or Cook County Clerk’s Office, Vital Records . Some suburban towns have their own registrar. It is advised to call your funeral home or this office for the registrar that handled a decedent’s death certificate.
Medical Examiner Reports
Copies of Postmortem reports can be obtained through the Medical Records Department. A written statement including the decedent’s name, date of death, and your relationship can be mailed to:
The Office of the Medical Examiner
2121 West Harrison, Chicago, IL 60612
ATTN: Medical Records.
Please include your return address along with a phone number where you can be reached. Once the file has been completed, you will be notified of the charges. At the discretion of Medical Examiner photos will be released to the legal next of kin; in other instances a court order may be required.
Per the State of Illinois, Public Act 096-1161 :
- Autopsy Reports: $50.00
- Toxicology Reports: $25.00
- Miscellaneous Reports: $25.00
- Photos: $5.00 per photo
- X-rays: $10.00 per x-ray
- Histology slides: $5.50 per slide
NOTE: Do not send payment until you have received a bill from this office. Acceptable methods of payment are: cash, cashier’s check, and money orders.