Volume 19, Issue 1 (January 1974)
The Passing of Lay Coroners
In 1945 a committee of the American Medical Association (AMA) published a report  deploring the condition of the coroner service throughout the United States. The AMA report stated that “medicine participates less effectively in the administration of justice in the United States than it does in any comparable country in the world.” Although the medical profession throughout the country was aware of the situation already, there was apparently no follow-up nor any change instituted as a result of that report. Presumably the obstacles to reforming the situation seemed invulnerable, for the offices of coroners in most states were imbedded in the state's constitution as were those of county boards, sheriffs, county clerks, prosecutors, and various others. These minor offices, along with the other dull and minor posts that appeared periodically on local ballots, failed almost completely to attract the attention or scrutiny of typical voters. Voters, in the course of marking a paper ballot or pulling little levers on a voting machine, came to such minor offices and voted for all the Democrats or all the Republicans without being able, as they left the polls, to tell you the names of the candidates. The sovereign people have their own royal notion of what is interesting or relatively important in their daily lives, and have taken this attitude toward the great lists of minor offices ever since the era of Andrew Jackson. They are not to be sneered at for being so sensible as to bestow their attention on nearer and dearer matters of private concern; however, this condition left the selection of minor offices to the ticket makers of the two major political parties in each county, a group trivial in numbers and concerned with self interest and party interest in distributing these minor jobs to loyal party members. In perhaps half the 3000-odd counties of the United States, a single party has held, and still holds, consecutive control for generations on end. The situation excluded selection of professionals, since the coronership, like the other county offices, was sure to be awarded to a local aspirant.