Whenever a U.S. citizen dies in the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Citizens Services (ACS) unit should be notified immediately. After hours and on holidays or weekends, the Embassy duty officer is the first point of contact. The duty officer can be reached at (809) 567-7775. The following standard procedures are used by the local authorities in handling death cases:
- The death must always be reported to the police. The police are responsible for having a “Medico Legista” (Medical Examiner) brought to the scene. Medicos Legistas are designated doctors certified by the Dominican government to make a legal determination of death. Each province has one designated Medico Legista.
- Legally, the body should not be removed from the place where the death occurred until the Medico Legista and the police arrive. The Medico Legista’s function is to make a medical determination of death. He or she also authorizes the remains to be moved to one of the five regional Forensic labs for an autopsy. If the Medico Legista cannot be located by the police, the police can authorize the remains to be moved. When police are not available despite all best efforts, as an interim measure local military officials, the Alcalde (Community Representative), or the Red Cross can sometimes be of service. Emergency medical transportation is not always available, particularly in rural areas where funeral homes are scarce. Public hospital ambulance service is provided without charge, though gas may have to be covered. Authorities may rely on private ambulance, or even privately owned vehicles for hire. The Embassy cannot be responsible for any costs incurred.
- The next step is for a legal autopsy to be performed by a Medico Forense (Forensic Doctor). In any case of a non-natural death, or when the remains will be transported out of the country for burial, Dominican law requires an autopsy. There are no exceptions. The legal autopsy must be conducted by a Medico Forense. The five Medico Forense laboratories in the country are located in Santo Domingo, Santiago, San Francisco de Macoris, San Pedro de Macoris, and Azua. Be aware that medical autopsies do not qualify as a legal autopsy unless performed by a Medico Forense. Autopsies are normally performed during regular working hours Monday-Friday.
- Once the Medico Forense has completed the legal autopsy, he or she sends the remains to the funeral home and issues a Certificado de Defuncion describing the cause of death. This preliminary document is provided to the family and/or funeral home. It enables the family or funeral home to obtain a copy of the death certificate, called an Extracto de Acta de Defuncion, from the Oficialia del Estado Civil. The funeral home and the Embassy’s ACS Unit must have the Extracto de Acta de Defuncion to process documentation for the shipment of remains to the United States. The Embassy’s ACS Unit also uses this document to prepare the Consular Report of Death of a U.S. Citizen Abroad which is provided to the legal next of kin
- When a U.S. citizen or other foreigner dies, the Extracto de Acta de Defuncion will be issued from the Oficialia de Estado Civil in the town/city where he/she passed away. This means that in practice, while a Forensic Doctor can conduct the autopsy in any of the cities listed above, it is often more efficient to have the autopsy performed in Santo Domingo if the local authorities are willing to do so.