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08 February 2011 @ 12:27 am
Real ME News Brings Fictional ME to Mind  
I've encountered much news coverage of a recently-released study of the state of the medical examiner and coroner systems in the US.  As summed up by Scientific American magazine, the investigative journalists discovered that "only about 20 percent of coroners have forensics certification, and most face limited resources and large workloads."  Of course this is across the border as well as across the years from our favorite fictional Toronto Medical Examiner, but the reports share diverse information and anecdotes about real life in the profession, and I thought perhaps someone might be inspired by the reporting -- besides helping address the Real Life issues, if that's within your sphere, of course! -- to write a new FK fanfiction focusing on the Coroner's Office side of the story, perhaps starring Natalie or Grace.

(In "Cherry Blossoms," Natalie says: "I'm sorry, Nick. It's been a bad day. They've cut my budget all to hell. I've got to lose two of the attendants from my shift, and they've all got families. Worst of it is, they've got nothing to go to. Working in a morgue doesn't really qualify you for anything else.")

The extensive Scientific American article is "Real CSI: Patchy U.S. Death Investigations Put the Living at Risk" by A.C. Thompson, et. al. (February 1, 2011).  The PBS Frontline documentary is now available online.  And NPR has broadcast numerous reports, including "Autopsy Cutbacks Reveal 'Gray Homicides'."

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Valerie - Postmodern Pollyanna: natpackerwiliqueen on February 8th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
I saw part of that Frontline the other night. Sobering stuff. :-/

When several of us did a tour at the Coroner's Building in '94, it was abundantly clear that (typically of TV - NCIS having both Abby and Ducky is rather a minor miracle!) Nat was doing about five people's jobs, though those jobs were almost all part-time. Perhaps more interestingly, that facility served the province, not just the city or county.

I wonder how it might have changed since then?
Amy R.: Nataliebrightknightie on February 8th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for sharing that valuable information from your tour! It is especially interesting that the facility serves the entire province; I had imagined it as containing a provincial headquarters -- that is, an office -- but as doing the day-to-day work of the city and surrounding areas only.

As you note, Natalie frequently manifests the fictional prerogative of being an expert in every "science-y" field, as the plot demands; it's in just that one second-season episode where we meet that ballistics expert who flirts with Schanke, and she's the only scientist/technician besides Natalie and Grace established to work in the building. (Eddie from OtLonely and the murderer from KI qualify as the "attendants" Natalie mentions?)

I imagine that Ontario, having their system ultimately based in the same English inquest traditions as the US system, probably faces some of the same issues as their US counterparts, if not all of them. However, quality seems to vary so widely; it just takes funding and commitment to do it right.
PJ1228pj1228 on February 8th, 2011 08:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks for pointing at this interesting article. I must say, the conditions out there are rather scary.

Yet, I had to smile at this line: >and lost track of at least five bodies.<

We know that Nat lost track of at least one body. Although, she never really lost track. He just sat up and walked out. ;)
Amy R.: Natalie Againbrightknightie on February 14th, 2011 06:07 am (UTC)
>"I must say, the conditions out there are rather scary."

Yes. To some degree, I knew that underfunding due to severe budget cuts was beginning to cause problems, but I was completely unaware of the antiquated personnel systems in some parts of the country.
greerwatsongreerwatson on February 9th, 2011 12:12 pm (UTC)
Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences (better known to us as the Coroners Office at 25 Grosvenor Street): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario_Centre_of_Forensic_Sciences

DNA testing is notoriously slow; and you'll find mention, down the page, of a couple of major cases where this has caused serious problems.

The joke is that, for all its known faults, this is one of the best forensics labs around, if only because it serves a large area, and hence has a good sized staff specialized in different fields. In smaller jurisdictions, one person has to wear multiple hats; and they can't possibly be equally expert in everything. (Except for Natalie, obviously!)
PJ1228pj1228 on February 9th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
But this is not the same as 26 Grenville Street, is it?
greerwatsongreerwatson on February 9th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
No, you're right. What the show did was basically conflate the two. As brightknightie said, we always saw Natalie provide us with the forensic info—as if she were pathologist and Ident all rolled into one.
Amy R.: Natalie Againbrightknightie on February 14th, 2011 06:15 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this valuable link!

I'm often amused at how most investigative/procedural fictions seem to either have a large staff of detectives and just one scientist (e.g. FK, the L&Os) or the opposite, a large staff of scientists and just one detective (e.g. Bones, the CSIs). :-)