Many of the academy's proposals would take money -- money to educate doctors, to hire more of them and to construct up-to-date facilities.
It's not an overwhelming amount. DiMaio, the former Bexar County medical examiner, estimated that the price of a good medical examiner's office is about $2.50 per person per year, "which is probably less than what you pay for a Coca-Cola in a movie theater."
So far, however, even that is a price many communities have been unwilling to pay. Oklahoma, for example, spends about one-third less each year on its medical examiner than DiMaio's formula suggests it should.
Dr. Victor Weedn, the Maryland assistant medical examiner, said basic misunderstandings about the significance of death investigation have made it a hard sell.
"It's difficult for people to spend money on medical examiner systems," Weedn said. "They see it often as wasting money on the dead, without realizing that everything that is done in a medical examiner office, or a coroner office, is truly done for the living. We try to protect society. We look for deaths that are premature, or that should not have happened, so that we can go forth and correct those errors in society."
ProPublica Deputy Editor of News Applications Krista Kjellman-Schmidt, Director of Computer-Assisted Reporting Jennifer LaFleur, Director of Research Lisa Schwartz and reporter Ryan Gabrielson of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley contributed to this report.
Additional research was provided by Liz Day, Sydney Lupkin, Kitty Bennett, Sheelagh McNeill and Ryan Knutson of ProPublica, Jackie Bennion of PBS "Frontline," and Barbara Van Woerkom of NPR.