§ 17.170 - Autopsies.
(a) General. (1) Except as otherwise provided in this section, the Director of a VA facility may order an autopsy on a decedent who died while undergoing VA care authorized by § 17.38 or § 17.52, if the Director determines that an autopsy is required for VA purposes for the following reasons:
(i) Completion of official records; or
(ii) Advancement of medical knowledge.
(2) VA may order an autopsy to be performed only if consent is first obtained under one of the following circumstances:
(i) Consent is granted by the surviving spouse or next of kin of the decedent;
(ii) Consent is implied where a known surviving spouse or next of kin does not respond within a specified period of time to VA's request for permission to conduct an autopsy;
(iii) Consent is implied where a known surviving spouse or next of kin does not inquire after the well-being of the deceased veteran for a period of at least 6 months before the date of the veteran's death; or
(iv) Consent is implied where there is no known surviving spouse or next of kin of the deceased veteran.
(b) Death resulting from crime. If it is suspected that death resulted from crime and if the United States has jurisdiction over the area where the body is found, the Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs facility will inform the Office of Inspector General of the known facts concerning the death. Thereupon the Office of Inspector General will transmit all such information to the United States Attorney for such action as may be deemed appropriate and will inquire whether the United States Attorney objects to an autopsy if otherwise it be appropriate. If the United States Attorney has no objection, the procedure as to autopsy will be the same as if the death had not been reported to him or her.
(c) Jurisdiction. If the United States does not have exclusive jurisdiction over the area where the body is found the local medical examiner/coroner will be informed. If the local medical examiner/coroner declines to assume jurisdiction the procedure will be the same as is provided in paragraph (b) of this section. If a Federal crime is indicated by the evidence, the procedure of paragraph (b) of this section will also be followed.
(d) Applicable law. (1) The laws of the state where the autopsy will be performed are to be used to identify the person who is authorized to grant VA permission to perform the autopsy and, if more than one person is identified, the order of precedence among such persons.
(2) When the next of kin, as defined by the laws of the state where the autopsy will be performed, consists of a number of persons such as children, parents, brothers and sisters, etc., permission to perform an autopsy may be accepted when granted by the person in the appropriate class who assumes the right and duty of burial.
(e) Death outside a VA facility. The Director of a VA facility may order an autopsy on a veteran who was undergoing VA care authorized by § 17.38 or § 17.52, and whose death did not occur in a VA facility. Such authority also includes transporting the body at VA's expense to the facility where the autopsy will be performed, and the return of the body. Consent for the autopsy will be obtained as stated in paragraph (d) of this section. The Director must determine that such autopsy is reasonably required for VA purposes for the following reasons:
(1) The completion of official records; or
(2) Advancement of medical knowledge.