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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Politics and Corruption in the Medical Examiner's Office

Becoming the chief medical examiner of New York City [in 1978] was a fulfillment...I envisioned the office as independent, scientific, apolitical. Pure. Robert Morgenthau, the district attorney of Manhattan, saw it as an arm of the DA's office, with a malleable medical examiner doing his bidding. But if the DA needs a rape in order to prosecute, should the ME somehow find evidence consistent with a rape? If the police say their prisoner died of a heart attack and not a choke hold, should the ME oblige with a death certificate that says cardiac arrest? What is really wanted is an elastic man, one who will stretch and bend his findings to suit the DA's needs and the political climate. Truth and excellence play no part in this arrangement. Numbers are what count, getting convictions for the DA, and the ME's office exists for that purpose. Its own purposes are always subordinate to somebody else's agenda. The DA and his numbers look good for a while, but the ME is degraded and his work suffers. The office succumbs to creeping corruption, a little bit here, a little bit there, until it begins to resemble the old coroner system it replaced.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner (with Judith Adler Hennessee), 1989

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