The Chief Forensic Pathologist and Chief Coroner are committed to helping concerned families get answers about past autopsies. Family members and personal representatives can call the information line at 1-855-564-4122, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us by mail:
Ontario Forensic Pathology Service
25 Morton Schulman Ave.
Calls to 1-855-564-4122 are answered by our call taker Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is an option to leave a voice message if the call taker is not available, indicating an appropriate time to call back. Calls will be returned within one business day.
Expectations regarding information-sharing and decision-making after death have changed and so have the policies and regulations of the death investigation system. Today, families are routinely notified when an organ is retained, and their wishes regarding final disposition of the organ are sought and respected wherever possible.
However, for decades, retaining organs as part of an autopsy was considered standard practice, and family members may not have been told that an organ had been retained, in order to spare them further grief.
The Chief Forensic Pathologist and Chief Coroner are committed to helping concerned families get answers about past autopsies.
The caller will be asked to provide some details, such as the deceased person’s name, date of birth, and place and date of death. This information will be collected under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Coroners Act. A simultaneous interpretation service has been engaged that enables callers to communicate with us in over 170 languages.
Before any information can be released, the person will also have to sign and submit a form to formally request the release of information. The call-taker can send this form by fax, email or mail.
A staff member will retrieve information about the autopsy and will let the person know whether an organ was retained and is currently in storage at a hospital or forensic pathology unit.
If an organ was retained and is now in storage, there will be an opportunity to request in writing that the organ be sent to a funeral home for cremation and/or interment, at the expense of the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service and the Office of the Chief Coroner.
The Ontario Forensic Pathology Service and the Office of the Chief Coroner will cover the cost of sending an organ currently in storage to a funeral home specified by the family and for cremation and/or interment.
Previously, Regulation 180 of the Coroners Act required that organs retained prior to June 14, 2010, that remained in storage to be respectfully disposed of on or soon after June 14, 2013. However, this regulation has been amended to give families more time.
The organs will now be kept for at least five more years, unless the family or personal representative provides disposition instructions. After five years, the Chief Forensic Pathologist can make the decision to dispose of organs only after seeking advice from the Chief Coroner.
This is a difficult and sensitive issue. Our approach respects bereaved families who wish to have this information, while preventing distress to those who prefer not to know.
In order to ensure that those who want to inquire have an opportunity to learn about this issue, a public notice regarding the extension ran in newspapers across the province and nationally starting on June 14, 2012, and again in February 2013.
Family members and personal representatives wanting information should contact the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service and the Office of the Chief Coroner at 1-855-564-4122.
Staff will help families get the answers they need. In cases where an organ was kept, staff can make arrangements to send the organ to a funeral home for cremation and/or interment at the expense of the Ontario forensic Pathology Service and the Office of the Chief Coroner.
This approach is supported by the Death Investigation Oversight Council, chaired by the Hon. Joseph James. The Death Investigation Oversight Council was established after the Goudge Inquiry to provide independent oversight of Ontario’s coroners and forensic pathologists.
In the past, each hospital set its own policies and procedures for the retention and disposition of organs. As a result, some retained organs were disposed of prior to June 2010. In some cases there may not be sufficient documentation to confirm whether the family was notified of the retention.
It is sometimes necessary to retain an organ for further testing to determine the cause of death orto help determine whether the deceased person’s family members are at risk.
Without retaining organs in some cases, the Office of the Chief Coroner and Ontario Forensic Pathology Service would not be able to provide families and the justice system with the answers they seek on the cause of death, nor would the coroner be able to improve public safety by helping to find ways to prevent similar deaths.
When an autopsy is ordered by a coroner, consent of the family is not required under the Coroners Act. If necessary, the pathologist who conducts the autopsy can obtain permission from the Chief Forensic Pathologist to retain an organ for further examination.
When an organ is retained, strict policies and regulations now require the coroner and pathologist to notify the personal representative or family and to obtain written instructions regarding the final disposition of the organ.
Retaining organs for further testing after autopsy was not uncommon in the past, but today very few organs are retained because advancements in medical practice allow organs to be examined much more quickly. While longer-term retention is still required in specific circumstances, in most cases organs are now returned before the funeral.