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Death and Ethics


-Deontology: the study of the nature of duty and obligation.

Behind the understanding of death are hidden all the moral and ethical values of human existence. When a person is found dead at the crime scene, a process that involves several people is started and each professional must adhere to precise rules of behavior. Acting in an ethical manner must be the basis of every professional action, because respecting death is equivalent to respecting life.


When a homicide occurs and the death is not easily discernible or if the conditions are particularly violent, the intervention if the coroner is necessary to define the circumstances precisely. The reasons behind a homicide can be many, and every piece of evidence gathered is a step toward solving the riddle. The coroner has the duty to inspect every detail of the scene, collect all the evidence he deems valid, photograph the body, objects and the environment around the corpse, and finally transport the corpse to the morgue for autopsy.

The practice of forensic medicine is based on moral correctness and awareness of the ethical-legal and deontological responsibilities that derive from it and must avoid any kind of influence and conditioning. The practice of medical-legal procedures that do not comply with the rules of professional ethics constitutes not only an offence sanctioned by law but also a damaging act to professional decorum.

In all cases of sudden and/or violent death in a public place or in circumstances where the family is not present, the coroner must notify the relatives of the death of the person involved.

Death notification to relatives initiates grief, a process that leads to pain in the people experiencing it. If distance does not prevent it, notification by the coroner should be given face-to-face, otherwise by telephone and with as much grace and delicacy as possible. The manner of giving the notification may worsen or lessen the pain in the listener and it is necessary to give this type of communication in a private place, introducing oneself, speaking slowly and calmly. The coroner has the ethical duty to describe the events that led to the person's death, answering any questions or calming down if any emotional outbursts occur. If relatives ask to spend some time with the deceased, the coroner must allow it but he must advise them if the body is disfigured or not intact.

After the notification of death, the coroner is responsible for asking for consent to perform an autopsy and/or organ and tissue donation and then he should leave a phone number for further contact. The laws establishing authorizations for performing autopsies in the United States vary from state to state and the coroner has the duty to be fully knowledgeable about them. Any unauthorized autopsy or one whose consent is obtained by deception or improperly is criminally punishable. First of all, the coroner must ensure that the body has been properly identified.

It is necessary to order an autopsy in the following cases: • Violent deaths (homicide, suicide, serious accidents). • Deaths associated with public health risks (contagious infections, poisoning, occupational diseases). • Suspicious circumstances or suspected medical negligence.

The coroner must maintain confidentiality about investigation and victim's facts and must take care to deliver a report to the physicians who treated the victim before death.


Once the corpse has been sewn up and all the details of interest have been noted, the doctor entrusts the corpse to a funeral home, which has the task of managing the funeral.

The coroner has the responsibility to inform the funeral director about possible biological hazards and should store the corpse in a cold room to delay post-mortem stiffness and so to facilitate the washing and dressing of the corpse by the funeral home staff.

Public funeral homes must provide decorous services and charge prices that are appropriate for the services rendered and the supplies provided. Funeral companies must provide clear and complete information about their services, explain to the clients the different types of funerals they can offer, and submit prices without influencing the clients’ choice.

The personnel employed by funeral homes must be properly qualified to carry out the tasks assigned to them. Additionally, the staff of funeral homes must present a dignified and sober appearance, must be equipped with equipment suitable for the protection of personal hygiene and health of the environment in which they work, and must not ask for tips.

The funeral home, in addition to organizing the funeral, prepares the deceased for the ceremony performing thanatopraxis, a practice that encompasses all of the attention given to the deceased with the purpose of taking care of his or her appearance before presenting him or her to their loved ones for a final goodbye.

Washing, drying, and preparing a deceased person is one of the gestures that must be performed with great respect and professionalism. Taking care of the deceased is a very important and intimate act, it restores dignity to the person and allows family members and acquaintances to keep a good memory of him or her.

After the last goodbye and the ceremony, the deceased is buried in the cemetery, a meeting place for all the people who sooner or later pass away. The cemetery must be kept clean, quiet, and full of flowers and plants, and for this reason, there must be a lot of daily maintenance. Family members will take care of bringing flowers or lighting candles on the grave of the deceased to keep their memory alive.

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