I was asked yesterday (OK, it was more like a verbal running gun battle over the last couple of days) why we don’t allow viewing of decedents by family members in our office (building). The previous administration did. While we do (and/or have) on rare occasions allowed for that to take place, as a matter of policy we do not allow it.
Previously, the viewings were done through a window into our auxiliary autopsy room in which the decedent would be placed on a cart, covered so that only their face was visible. The family would be standing in a hallway looking in through a window (that appears to have been placed to allow autopsy viewing).
It is my opinion that the coroner’s facility is not a good place to view your deceased loved one. The viewing is seldom the peaceful experience they show on TV: opening up a morgue drawer, pulling back the sheet while saying “Is this your loved one?” Our facilities are not conducive to “nice” viewing of a loved one. Our hallway for viewing is white walls, bare concrete floor and only 4 foot wide. Other areas of the office are not available for viewing decedents (including any consideration of “face-to-face” viewing) because of biohazard concerns, evidentiary chain-of-custody concerns and the like. The viewings are emotionally charged and individuals have fainted, thrown themselves to the ground and reacted somewhat violently. These eventualities are unpredictable and bring up concerns regarding injury and liability. It is also quite possible that certain odors from other decedents present (decomposition, et al.) that would make viewing in that area problematic.
Decedents are, within a short period of time, available for transfer to a funeral home, a much better place for viewing with better “atmosphere” and designed for viewing decedents. Funeral staffs are also trained and have the wherewithal to make the decedents more “presentable’ than we can or do in the Coroner’s Office.
We can and do show family and friends digital photographs (we have them readily available) of the decedent, especially if we are in need of identification confirmation.
It is therefore the policy of my office that viewing of decedents will not take place in our facility. We have only very rarely had complaints to this policy. Will it never occur? I wouldn’t say that, there could be extenuating circumstances, but it would be rare that it would occur and only with good reason.