A chronically underfunded system riddled with egregious conflicts of interest. That's one way to describe the state-by-state system that governs U.S. coroners, reports Samantha Young of Kaiser Health News. The meshwork is so sticky, one physician shared this observation with Young: "If you ever want to know when, how — and where — to kill someone, I can tell you, and you’ll get away with it. No problem."

Nancy Belcher, chief executive officer of the King County Medical Society in Seattle, told Young that in Washington, "A coroner doesn’t have to ever have taken a science class in their life. These are the people that go in, look at a homicide scene or death, and say whether there needs to be an autopsy. They’re the ultimate decision-maker."

How suspicious death is investigated varies from state to state, and even within states. "The job can be held by an elected coroner as young as 18 or a highly trained physician appointed as medical examiner," Young reports. "Some death investigators work for elected sheriffs who try to avoid controversy or owe political favors. Others own funeral homes and direct bodies to their private businesses. . . It’s a disjointed and chronically underfunded system — with more than 2,000 offices across the country that determine the cause of death in about 600,000 cases a year."

Read the full article about U.S. coroners by Heather Close at The Rural Blog.