In Marion County it appears that the coroner's office is in chaos. A chief deputy with long experience is fired. Families are incensed about delays in notification of the death of relatives. The coroner authorizes the cremation of an unidentified body.
The prosecutor is investigating the coroner's employees for allegations of missing county property and more than $3,000 stolen from a body, with falsification of the computerized personal property receipts indicating a total lack of electronic security.
Another potential disaster: Marion County Coroner Kenneth Ackles' decision to terminate the contract with the group of board-certified forensic pathologists associated with Indiana University who have been performing the autopsies. Such highly qualified professionals number only about 400 in the entire country. Since the contract will terminate on Dec. 19, there is not time to recruit quality replacements because it could take many months to find them. The National Association of Medical Examiners has not even heard from Dr. Ackles, a chiropractor, about replacements.
The specialized expertise of the highest quality forensic pathologists is crucial to providing competent medical evidence to determine the manner and cause of death. This has important implications for life insurance payments to families, and for obtaining homicide convictions including child abuse cases.
In 1993, the Marion County coroner terminated the contract with the forensic pathologists at Indiana University. They proved impossible to replace, and until their contract was restored Marion County suffered through a time of botched autopsies by inadequately trained and otherwise professionally problematic pathologists. Criminal investigations and prosecutions were compromised.
You would have thought we would have learned from our mistake after the disastrous tenure of former coroner Karl Manders during the early 1990s as Feldman reminds us of. Instead, we are repeating the same mistake, which will invariably lead to more botched autopsies and compromised criminal prosecutions. Feldman believes replacing the coroners with regional pathologist medical examiners under the authority of a state-appointed medical examiner within the Department of Health is a good alternative. His idea, however, will require a constitutional amendment, which means it will take at least four years to become a reality. The legislature needs to act quickly on this idea. Forget the same-sex marriage amendment. We have a more pressing need--the value we place on human lilfe.