According to NPR, it’s still a common practice to hire lay coroners, those that don’t have any medical training to their work pronouncing people dead, and they usually don’t have any formal medical training unless they are on a fire and rescue squad or an EMT. It’s quite a nice job to have, too. They are often paid, like in Ogdensburg, New York, around $6,000 a year and are offered health insurance benefits for working part time on call.
However, coroners don’t do autopsies or handle the body to find what caused the death of the person. That job is left up to the medical examiner, who does have a medical degree and special training to deal with dead bodies in a medicinal manner.
In America, most coroners in rural areas are elected when other city and county officials are elected on voting day. Electing a coroner is a holdover from medieval English common law, where the coroner’s job was to determine how and when people had died in order to collect taxes. That system worked in early America, too, and while they aren’t a main source of collecting taxes, their job remains the same to this day.
In the end, most coroners run for the title because they want to help people in their grieving, and be there for them when they have to give the bad news. It’s isn’t a happy job, but many people have the rapport (and stomach) to handle such a job.
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