Respect and Dignity for the Postmortem Decedent and Family

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Death is an inevitable end for all livings things, and humans are no exception. While the majority of American citizens die from natural health issues, there is a large portion who meet their end through accidental, unknown, or suspicious means. In these instances, state law requires an investigation into the manner and cause of death. While death investigators can have varied backgrounds, it is increasingly common to see forensic nurses working in the role. The purpose of this presentation is to address the concept of dignity and respect for the postmortem decedent and their family when performing death investigations. This is achieved through research into the number of Americans who die in a manner requiring investigation and what an investigation entails, examining how dignity and respect are given to the decedent and family in practice, and recognizing conflicts that may arise between the legal requirements of the investigation and postmortem wishes or concerns of the family. An education proposal is given for death investigators on how to appropriately mediate conflict between the family and investigation process, as well as how to show to dignity and respect to the decedent’s body. An emphasis is made on the benefits of the nursing perspective for death investigation work, including implementation of Watson’s Theory of Human Caring. A presentation of the education material is given to death investigators from a southwestern Ohio coroner’s office who have non-nursing backgrounds, in order to demonstrate how the nursing perspective of death investigation can benefit investigators from other backgrounds in their work.