March 2016 Vital Records News

March 2016

Vital Records News

Autopsy question added to Minnesota death records to track data

Cause of death is the most fundamental health statistic and autopsies assure an accurate cause of death is determined. Many people have religious beliefs (e.g., American Indian traditions, Orthodox Judaism, and Christian Catholic) that prohibit or discourage autopsies. This was highlighted in February 2015 following the death of an individual who had traditional American Indian beliefs. The family did not want an autopsy, however the medical examiner believed an autopsy was necessary. At the time, Minnesota law had no provision for objection to autopsy on religious grounds.

The Minnesota Legislature amended Minnesota Statutes 2014, section 390.11, by adding a subdivision, 2b, Religious objections to autopsy ( The subdivision, effective July 1, 2015, allows for a decedent’s representative to object to an autopsy based on the religious beliefs of the decedent. The subdivision also defines “compelling state interest” and lists the circumstances when an autopsy may be performed despite the religious objection.

A workgroup at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) was convened with members from the infectious disease, injury prevention and vital records programs to assess the impact of this change in the law and discuss opportunities to support Minnesota’s medical examiners and coroners in protecting the public’s health.

At the request of the workgroup, the Office of Vital Records modified the Minnesota Registration & Certification (MR&C) system to include a data field for medical examiners and coroners to indicate whether a religious objection to an autopsy had been requested. The data field has been available since January 1, 2016 and includes three response options for the religious objection to autopsy question: yes, no, and unknown. Below is further clarification under which circumstances each response should be selected:

  • Yes: A religious objection occurs when the family or representative of the decedent maintains the objection throughout the entire time period following the death, which causes the medical examiner or coroner not to perform a complete or partial autopsy (i.e., external examination, x-rays, specimens taken for toxicology or other testing). Additionally, a religious objection occurs when the objection is maintained, but an autopsy takes place because the case meets one of the exceptions in the statute that constitute a compelling state interest.
  • No: A religious objection to autopsy does NOT occur if no objection is raised by the family or representative of a decedent. It also does NOT occur if originally there is an objection, but the death investigators, medical examiners, or coroners work with the family and come to a mutual decision that conducting an autopsy is in the best interest of the family and the public’s health. The autopsy process then moves forward with the support of the family. Additionally, there is no religious objection if a religion other than the decedent’s religion is used for the objection.
  • Unknown: A religious objection to autopsy is unknown if the family or representative of the decedent cannot be reached and the question cannot be answered.

Since the legislation took effect, there have been seven religious objections through the end of February 2016; four were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health via a survey in 2015, and three have been reported in 2016 via the new data field in MR&C. Among the religious objections in 2015, three were from families with traditional American Indian beliefs and the fourth was a Christian Catholic family. Two of the 2015 deaths resulted from motor vehicle crashes, one from natural causes, and the final was a homicide. Despite the objections, external examinations of the bodies occurred, x-rays and blood samples were collected for toxicology, and in one case a full autopsy was performed. In 2016, all three religious objections were for deaths from natural causes but the underlying cause of death was undetermined. Further follow-up will occur to learn more about the circumstances of each death.

MDH can provide assistance and support for medical examiners and coroners. Medical examiners or coroners who have questions or concerns about a specific religious objection and think a compelling public health interest may exist to conduct an autopsy can contact the MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Program at 651-201-5414 or 1-877-676-5414. The final decision about performing an autopsy must be made by a medical examiner or coroner; MDH does not have the legal authority to make that decision.


Paternity education materials updated

Legislative changes effective March 1, 2016, required the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), Child Support Division to clarify the effects of signing and filing Recognitions of Parentage (ROPs) and to update all of their paternity education materials.

Child support team members updated information and emphasized important points with larger, bolder font and graphic layout in the booklet, Being a Legal Father: Parentage information for mothers and fathers, and the Minnesota Voluntary Recognition of Parentage form. Later this year, the ROP signature page will be updated when the Office of Vital Records completes its technical project to update the imaging software that is required for ROP filing. DHS is translating both of these documents into non-English languages. The paternity forms available from MR&C are updated. Make sure any printed handbooks and forms in use at your facility are the most recent versions from January 2016. Parentage forms are available from a county child support office or the Minnesota Department of Human Services website.

Work is already underway at the Child Support Division to replace the video, Power of Two, with updated information to comply with the mandate. DHS expects to release the video later this year. Contact Kristi Phetdara, DHS Paternity Program Administrator at 651-431-4435 or for more information.

Engaging the community to serve families better

Hibbing training brings new approach to birth registration 

Registering  a birth record correctly is important because the data we collect is used by many programs. Sometimes a community approach fosters an environment that supports collaboration and cooperation.   

Last month, Judy Strumbell’s efforts to host a conversation about improving birth registration and paternity establishment, brought professionals together in a new way. Strumbell, a social worker at Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing, invited staff from the Office of Vital Records and the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Child Support program to lead a birth registration and paternity establishment training open to staff from other hospitals. 

The training was unique in that social workers, child support officers, birth registrars, and personnel from the St. Louis County Attorney’s office attended. Each attendee had a different level of knowledge and perspective on the subject of paternity and birth registration. All had something to contribute to the conversation, learned something from the training and other attendees, and found new ways to help each other and serve families. 

The Hibbing event is an example of a creative approach and a way to strengthen collaborative efforts in paternity education and birth registration. Kristi Phetdara, DHS Paternity Program Administrator who presented at the event commented “Inclusive trainings such as this provide an opportunity to bring together many stakeholders and perspectives. By bringing the community together, we can provide a comprehensive approach to addressing complex issues. We are better together!” 

Other vital events such as fetal deaths and deaths similarly impact hospitals and other agencies and offices. These events must be registered; the resulting records and the families involved can benefit from professionals involved in the process reaching out to the community. No matter your role in vital records, OVR supports a teamwork approach to registering the birth accurately and in a timely manner, and supporting parents and their children right from the very beginning—at the hospital at the time of the birth. 

Training available

Birth Registration 101 - March 29 and 31, 2016

OVR recommends that those who are new to registering births or have never been formally trained attend Birth Registration 101. The class incorporates presentations from subject-matter experts with MR&C hands-on practice and discussion. More information about the class is on the MDH Birth Registration Information page.

The Five R’s of Death Registration: Rules, Requirements, and Resources for Recording and Registering Minnesota Deaths - May 23, 2016

The Minnesota Funeral Directors Association (MFDA) invited the Office of Vital Records to provide the Five R's class as an optional learning opportunity on May 23, 2016, for funeral professionals who attend the MFDA 126th Annual Convention. The class provides an overview of death registration, interactive dialogue, and tips to maximize use of the Minnesota Registration & Certification (MR&C) system. Licensees can earn 3 hours of continuing education in Regulation and Ethics. For registration information please see the MFDA convention information online. OVR will offer the class in November for others who do not attend the event or who are new to the industry. OVR will also exhibit at the MFDA convention.


Maria Schaff, who has previous experience in OVR and in the funeral industry, recently joined the Field Services Unit in the Office of Vital Records.


The Office of Vital Records (OVR) finalizes vital records data after the end of each calendar year so that annual health statistics can be published. OVR staff reach out to birth registrars and physicians on records that are incomplete. OVR closed the birth file with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on March 1, and is now focused on finalizing all death records.

Please register all 2015 deaths and fetal deaths immediately. Accurate cause of death information is critical. OVR requests your cooperation in assuring that all data is filed and records are finalized by April 18, 2016. OVR will review the data and make quality improvements before sending in final data to NCHS. Notify OVR if you have any 2015 records that will be delayed beyond this date by sending an email to


Minnesota Network of Hospice & Palliative Care Annual Conference April 10 - 12, Bloomington.

Minnesota Health Information Management Association Conference, April 27 - 29, Rochester.

Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses Conference, May 2, Minnetonka.

University of Minnesota Mortuary Science Student Classroom Training, May 3, Minneapolis.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016: Office of Vital Records All Staff Meeting, 8:15 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. We'll respond to voice messages and emails following the meeting.


State Registrar
Molly Mulcahy Crawford

Deputy State Registrar
Heidi Granlund

Issuance Unit Supervisor and Anti-Fraud Coordinator
Brenda Shinaul

Registration & Amendments Supervisor
Krista Bauer

Birth & Death Amendments, Adoptions and Paternity Adjudications

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Death Certificates

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