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Except as provided in this section, no autopsy will be performed by the Department of Veterans Affairs unless there is no known surviving spouse or known next of kin; or without the consent of the surviving spouse or, in a proper case, the next of kin, unless the patient or domiciled person was abandoned by the spouse, if any, or, if no spouse, by the next of kin for a period of not less than 6 months next preceding death. Where no inquiry has been made for or in regard to the decedent for a period of 6 months next preceding his death, he or she shall be deemed to have been abandoned.
If there is no known surviving spouse or known next of kin, or if the decedent shall have been abandoned or if the request is sent and the spouse or, in proper cases, the next of kin fails to reply within the reasonable time stated in such request of the Department of Veterans Affairs for permission to perform the autopsy, the Director is hereby authorized to cause an autopsy to be performed if in the Director's discretion he or she concludes that such autopsy is reasonably required for any necessary purpose of the Department of Veterans Affairs, including the completion of official records and advancement of medical knowledge.
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.
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 (c) of this section. If a Federal crime is indicated by the evidence, the procedure of paragraph (c) of this section will also be followed.
The laws of the decedent's domicile are determinative as to whether the spouse or the next of kin is the proper person to grant permission to perform an autopsy and of the question as to the order of preference among such persons. Usually the spouse is first entitled, except in some situations of separation; followed by children, parents, brothers and sisters, etc. When the next of kin as defined by the laws of decedent's domicile consists of a number of persons 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.
The Director of a Department of Veterans Affairs facility is authorized to cause an autopsy to be performed on a veteran who dies outside of a Department of Veterans Affairs facility while undergoing post-hospital care under the provisions of 38 U.S.C. 1712 and 38 CFR 17.93, if the Director determines such autopsy is reasonably required for any necessary purpose of the Department of Veterans Affairs, including the completion of official records and advancement of medical knowledge. Such authority also encompasses the furnishing of transportation of the body at Department of Veterans Affairs expense to the Department of Veterans Affairs facility and return of the body. Consent for the autopsy will be obtained as provided for in paragraph (e) of this section.
[16 FR 5701, June 15, 1951, as amended at 18 FR 2414, Apr. 24, 1953; 24 FR 8330, Oct. 14, 1959; 35 FR 6586, Apr. 24, 1970; 36 FR 23386, Dec. 9, 1971; 45 FR 6939, Jan. 31, 1980. Redesignated and amended at 61 FR 21966, 21968, May 13, 1996; 61 FR 29294, June 10, 1996; 68 FR 17551, Apr. 10, 2003]