John Oliver Recruits Glenn Close and Tracy Morgan to Highlight Autopsy Problems

John Oliver on Last Week Tonight HBO Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of HBO

The 'Last Week Tonight' host explored issues with death investigations as stars pleaded with viewers to have their bodies treated properly when they die.

John Oliver took a deep dive into death investigations during Sunday's episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight.

While the host acknowledged that the topic may seem too grim for a television show, he noted that many shows feature medical examiners including Body of Proof, Rizzoli & Isles and Forever.

Every year, approximately 2.8 million Americans die. A physician usually writes the cause of death on the death certificate, unless the person died under suspicious or unnatural circumstances. In those cases, the body is sent for further investigation and might have an autopsy done.

"A death certificate isn't like a degree from USC. It actually means something," Oliver said.

Autopsies explain how someone died but can also establish new trends in substance abuse and can detect new infectious diseases.

Still, Oliver explained that many autopsies are not performed under the best circumstances and shared news clips about medical examiners and coroners that have taken the bodies home to be eaten by their dogs or played with by children.

"Nobody wants to contemplate their own death or the death of their loved ones, so try to think about this in a more abstract way. Think about what you would want for a beloved entertainer," he said. "Not me, obviously. That's the worst possible example."

"Think of Beyonce, or Ted Danson, or Glenn Close," Oliver continued. After he said that Close's spleen could theoretically end up being eaten by a dog, the actress appeared in a clip to state that she didn't want that to happen to her corpse.

"I don't want my spleen eaten by a dog. Show my spleen some respect," said Close.

The segment concluded with a cameo by Tracy Morgan. "Can I talk about something for a minute?," he began. "We all know that one day we all won't be on this planet. We're gonna die. I don't know how I'm gonna die, but I know it's not gonna be by a Walmart." (The comment was in reference to Morgan's life-threatening car accident with a Walmart truck in 2014.)

"When my time does come, I don't want to end up in a basement dungeon on some dude's autopsy table standing over me with a butter knife and a dull spoon and an ice cream scooper," said Morgan. "Please don't let someone take my brain home to play with. That's not a good thing."

Morgan added that he would not stand for the possibility of a dog eating Close's spleen because the actress "is an American treasure."

Earlier in the segment, Oliver explained the "key difference" between medical examiners and coroners. "While medical examiners are required to be doctors, coroners are usually not medically trained at all," he said.

There are only 500 medical examiners practicing in the U.S. The reason there are so few people in the profession is because the position has a significantly lower salary than other medical professions.

"The thing is, it is not just dramatic consequences of murder investigations being compromised or epidemics potentially being missed," said Oliver. "Even just ordinary delays in processing death certificates can have serious practical consequences for families because, ideally, you'd want a death certificate within days or weeks, but it can take much, much longer than that."

A news clip followed of a woman explaining that her husband's delayed death certificate not only stopped her from emotionally moving on, but also prevented his life insurance from kicking in and helping her pay her mortgage.

"You shouldn't have to wait that long for something that important. It's not like making someone wait eight years to find out who wins the Game of Thrones," said Oliver. "Don't tell me who it is yet. I haven't seen it, but based on this season so far, I'm guessing it was Ed Sheeran."

Oliver suggested that phasing out coroners' offices and replacing them with medical examiners could improve death investigations. He added that his suggestion won't happen until the number of medical examiners increases. "You can't hire forensic pathologists who don't exist," he said.

Oliver added that medical students should be incentivized to become forensic pathologists by raising their salaries and by properly funding their offices.

Watch the full segment below.