In many cases, the cause of death is evident at the time of autopsy. In these cases, the death certificate is completed immediately and the examination report will typically be mailed out shortly thereafter. In other cases, the cause of death may require additional studies, and therefore, additional time. Many of these studies require processing and analysis of specimens by consulting laboratories, whose turn-around times are not controlled by the Walworth County Medical Examiner's Office.
Toxicology analysis is one of the most frequent reasons for a delay in completing an investigation and death certificate. Forensic toxicology (in Medical Examiner Office cases) is very different from the drug testing performed in hospitals. Toxicology analysis may only take 4 to 6 weeks if no drugs are present; however, 6 to 8 weeks are typically required to perform the necessary confirmations and quantitations of drugs detected. Longer toxicology turn-around times are required in cases where numerous drugs were involved, where unusual drugs are involved, or if the person is decomposed.
Finally, the death investigation may be prolonged if the pathologist's initial suspicions are not confirmed. For example, if the death is strongly suspected to be the result of drug toxicity, but the toxicology analysis detects no drugs, the forensic pathologist may submit additional tissues for microscopic examination and/or may consult with the certified forensic toxicologist to make decisions on analyzing further specimens for unusual substances. The forensic pathologist may also confer with the law enforcement agency investigating the death to consider other possibilities (asking the police to return to the scene of death or to interview additional witnesses).
As one might suspect, all death investigations are different, and determining the cause and manner of death may require a great number of steps, each requiring time to complete-the time needed to complete some of these steps may not be under the control of the Medical Examiner's Office. We greatly appreciate the patience of families and friends in these matters as we try to provide accurate and complete answers.