ASPEN, Colo. (AP) _ The Pitkin County coroner’s office is planning to use virtual autopsies in cases where a traditional procedure is either not needed or goes against the religious beliefs of the family.
Pitkin County Coroner Dr. Steve Ayers said post-mortem CT scans or MRIs can be used to determine the cause and manner of death in special cases.
Ayers said the procedure could have helped in the investigation into the death of socialite Nancy Pfister by avoiding a long wait for other agencies to complete their investigation last year, the Aspen Daily News reported (http://tinyurl.com/k6opkey).
Ex-anesthesiologist William Styler pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the case. He was sentenced to 20 years
He told the Pitkin County commissioners the technique can be an important tool for identifying bodies quickly when there are mass casualties, citing the 2001 Gulfstream crash near the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport that left 18 dead.
Ayers said it could be used for religious, cultural or humanitarian reasons, where a traditional autopsy isn’t required or the family is opposed to the act.
Radiologist Dr. Andy Fisher will get special training in Zurich later this year. Commissioners approved $4,300 to cover the cost of the course.
Ayers said forensic medicine for death investigations doesn’t have a set standard for services. He added that there was no training required for any coroner in Colorado until a few years ago.
“Some states and counties have basically zero death investigations,” Ayers said. “It might get done, it might not. There’s just no standard of care.”
He said the technique was used in Pitkin County to quickly determine the cause of death when a German skier was killed on a local mountain, allowing the victim’s family to take the body back to Germany.