ToxNow is a recent discovery in my podcast universe. From the first couple of episodes and the episode descriptions, ToxNow appears to cover a wide variety of topics within toxicology from a healthcare perspective. The podcast is produced by Matthew Zuckerman and features a variety of contributors from the University of Massachusetts from bath salts to agitated delirium to psychoactive drugs.
Death Cafes are a relatively new phenomenon that began in the UK in 2011 according to a radio story by the CBC in which Anna Marie Tremonti interviews the founder of the Death Cafe movement Jon Underwood. The gatherings essentially offer spaces in which to discuss death, fears about death, grief, dying and related topics in a not-for-profit, agenda-free arena. According to the Death Cafe website, their mission is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
Since their beginning, the meetings have spread throughout the world and to the US, and the Death Cafe website offers guidelines for hosting one’s own cafe as well as a search tool to find upcoming Death Cafe events.
If you have not yet listened to the podcast 99% Invisible by Roman Mars, you absolutely should. It is excellent. Today I stumbled upon a May 19th, 2015 episode, “The Nutshell Studies,” in which Katie Mingle and Roman Mars focus on Frances Glessner Lee, who famously created replicas of death scenes in the form of tiny, intricately accurate scale dioramas that were used to train police officers and homicide investigators. The episode also highlighted some of the differences between the medical examiner system(s) and the coroner system(s) in the US, as well as some of the myriad problems with the coroner systems. I posted the following comment on below the episode on the 99% Invisible website. Now, if you haven’t listened to the episode, I would suggest you listen to it here before continuing:
Thank you for focusing on death investigation and the coroner/medical examiner system, and for highlighting some of the problems in the underfunded patchwork of a coroner system. I am deeply familiar with this system, because I was a deputy coroner and then county coroner in my county. I am not a doctor; by background is in anthropology with a focus in forensic anthropology and pre-medicine. However, I really doubt one could get a doctor to work for the wage of the coroner in my county. In fact, for about the last 40 years, the coroners here have either been anthropologists or funeral home directors (another potential conflict of interest that occurs frequently in smaller counties).
Do bear in mind that most coroners are required to be trained and undergo continuing education in medicolegal death investigation. Many offices are working on accreditation through the IAC&ME, the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners. Many investigators are certified through the ABMDI, the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators. I am a member of and certified through both [correction, respectively], as well as through my state’s Peace Officer Standards Training Board of Coroners.
However, the problem is the patchwork nature of the coroner system, and that not all investigators or county coroner officials are uniformly certified. Each county has to make their own protocols on when to perform an autopsy and when not to. Many counties have to travel to perform autopsies with contract forensic pathologists. At least one entire state, Wyoming, is entirely devoid of forensic pathologists, so each county must contract and travel out of state for every single autopsy. Many offices have to struggle with county commissioners to explain the value of maintaining an autopsy budget and for paying their employees a living wage.
Thank you for highlighting some of the problems with the election of a county coroner, in which coroners candidates are forced to choose a party, then court votes and endorsements from police, funeral homes, sheriff’s departments, former professors, former county coroners, and other prominent members in their communities. To make matters even harder, how does a coroner candidate court regular, non-law enforcement voters when most voters are not even aware of what the coroner does?
Audience of whomever may stumble on this site:
I wanted to let you know that this blog is happening, slowly but surely. Right now it’s a bit of a blank canvas. I’m still organizing and working out what I want to include where, which is difficult because it will be a reflection of me and my interests, and I have a lot of interests.
I do plan to address a few things with the site, however.
- Thoughts on being a small-town coroner. This includes, but is not limited to, what people don’t understand about death, death investigation, and the dynamics of such work.
- Interesting tidbits I have picked up during my job and training as a coroner/death investigator.
- Making things.
- Podcasts and other bits of media that I like and can hopefully re-promote.
Back to you soon.