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April 19, 1995

More Expertise Needed in Death Investigations

JAMA. 1995;273(15):1164-1165. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03520390016005

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THE SCIENCE of death investigation is hardly for amateurs. Yet in one Georgia county, the coroner is a bus driver. South Carolina has had two blind coroners.

"Higher qualifications are needed since errors too frequently are made by coroners," said Kim Collins, MD, a forensic fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston.

Throughout the country, Collins told an audience during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), the structure and quality of death investigation systems remains uneven.

But she focused on South Carolina, one of 17 states with a dual coroner-medical examiner system. Each of the state's 46 counties has a coroner, but the two largest—Charleston and Greenville—also have medical examiners. Elsewhere, 11 states use only coroners while 22 states and the District of Columbia rely strictly on medical examiners. Medical examiners are physicians while coroners often are not.

Last year, Collins said South

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