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JAMA 100 Years Ago
January 8, 2003


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2003;289(2):240. doi:10.1001/jama.289.2.240-a

The New York County Medical Association has prepared a legislative bill for abolishing the coroner's office in the state of New York. The measure is modeled largely after the Massachusetts law, and among other things it provides for medical examiners who shall furnish accurate and complete information concerning suspicious deaths. The police department or prosecuting attorney is given power to carry the legal investigation of suspicious cases before a magistrate.

It is, indeed, most desirable that this relic of ancient English jurisprudence known as the coroner's office be abolished, and the sooner the better. A more cumbersome, irresponsible, and on the whole useless piece of governmental machinery does not exist than the coroner's office of this country, especially as it appears in our larger cities where the demands for the kind of work it is supposed to do are the greatest. In many states the office is a constitutional one, which will make the efforts for its abolishment in those states more difficult. In the matter of practical forensic medicine the United States is far behind other civilized countries because of the failure of the coroner's office to develop and adapt itself to the needs of the modern community. The proper carrying out of the important and highly responsible work naturally expected of the office that the present coroner's office stands for demands well-equipped laboratories for pathologic and toxicologic work manned by trained scientists. Medicolegal institutes of this kind exist elsewhere than in this country. Here this work is given into the hands of untrained men to do in the most unfavorable places, without facilities of any sort and with such apparatus as may be carried in a hand-bag. Corresponding to this shameful state of practical forensic medicine in this country, we find that the subject is neglected in most of the medical schools or given but perfunctory attention in order to fulfill the requirement of some states that instruction be given in medical jurisprudence. Adequately equipped laboratories for teaching those who desire it the special essentials of forensic medicine do not exist here. The vast amount of suitable medicolegal material daily furnished by our large cities—the medical centers—is unused for instruction of students or for any scientific purpose. There exists but little scientific periodic literature in this important branch of medicine in this country. No doubt this neglected state of affairs is in turn responsible for the numerous and wonderful "battles of experts" that so often disgrace our court proceedings. It is no wonder that justice is heard to have miscarried because of imperfect and incompetent investigations by medical men from the coroner's office.

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