Autopsies delayed on Guam after medical examiner retires

HAGATNA, Guam - Guam has experienced significant delays in autopsies and post-mortem examinations since the retirement of the island's chief medical examiner at the end of January, officials say.

The result has been delays in criminal cases and exams of people who died from natural causes, the Pacific Daily News reported Wednesday.

Post-mortem exams and autopsies must be performed on those who die within 24 hours of a hospital admission and on bodies that are to be transported off the island or cremated, officials said.

Grieving families can be left waiting while post-mortem exams are done by a Saipan-based pathologist who travels 136 miles (219 kilometres) to Guam and stays for only a few days at a time.

"Instead of the morgue releasing the body in two or three days, sometimes it's 10 days to two weeks," said Phil Flores of Our Lady of Peace funeral home.

The Commission on Post-Mortem Examinations recently contracted two forensic pathologists from Hawaii to perform autopsies, according to the newspaper, but the work is for "mainly homicides and similar crimes" as needed.

Explaining the delay to families is now part of the job for some funeral home representatives.

"It's just become a battle between how quickly can we all get this done and work with each other to make sure it's all taken care of," said Faithe Escalona of San Agustin Funeral Home.

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