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Cook County medical examiner suspends autopsies in drug and alcohol-related deaths

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The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office will temporarily suspend autopsies in drug and alcohol-related deaths.

The office will also suspend autopsies for those who had preexisting diseases and were known to have used drugs, according to a memo coming out of the office. The memo cited staff shortages for the temporary change in its policy.

Mary Paleologos, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Administration which oversees the Medical Examiner’s Office, said postmortem examinations will still be done. That differs from full autopsies which include an internal examination.

She said the Medical Examiner’s Office is currently short six pathologists.

“It’s pretty much come to a head these past few months where there’s been a number of resignations for one reason or another,” Paleologos said.

Paleologos said the office is looking to fill those vacant positions but in the meantime is trying to eliminate autopsies that are not absolutely necessary.

She said performing autopsies in the case of drug and alcohol-related deaths is the Medical Examiner’s policy but is not required by law.

The office will still perform an autopsy in those cases if it is requested by the family of the deceased or if the medical examiner suspects a threat to public health.

She said the office has temporarily suspended performing full autopsies before, like in the case of a 1995 heat wave in Chicago.

Typically, of the 5,000 cases coming into the medical examiner’s office each year, approximately 2,800—or 55 percent—receive full autopsies.

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