Guest blog: CNN promotes Sanjay Gupta as “certified medical examiner” in bin Laden story

ahc_75463.jpgThe following guest post was submitted by Dr. Steven Miles, Professor, Center for Bioethics; Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School.


CNN’s doc, Sanjay Gupta is looking into the mirror again and he likes what he sees.

Osama bin Laden is dead and Dr. Gupta could not wait to vicariously examine the body.
As CNN breathless and repeatedly exclaimed in one newscast:

“And still ahead, confirming that it was in fact Osama bin Laden that was killed, it was done incredibly quickly. DNA testing — DNA testing, we’re told, is what did it. We will talk to 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta, who is a certified medical examiner, about how they were able to do it so fast.

CNN chief medical correspondent and certified medical examiner Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to kind of explain how this was possible in so short a time.”

The Certified Medical Examiner is a new tag line for the all-purpose Dr. Gupta who CNN usually identifies as a (board-certified) neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent.

But what is this Board Certified Medical Examiner stuff?

Here is the Georgia statute on what it takes to be a medical examiner.



§ 45-16-80. Abolition of office of coroner; qualifications, appointment, compensation, powers, and duties of medical examiners

(c) To be eligible for the office of medical examiner, as established pursuant to this Code section, a person shall:

(1) Have a doctor of medicine degree and be licensed to practice medicine under the provisions of Chapter 34 of Title 43;

(2) Be eligible for certification by the American Board of Pathology; and

(3) Have at least one year of medico-legal training or one year of active experience in a scientific field in which legal or judicial procedures are involved at the county, state, or federal level.

(d) The requirements for medical examiners established pursuant to paragraphs (2) and (3) of subsection (c) of this Code section may be waived by the governing authority of any county in which the office of medical examiner is established pursuant to this Code section but may not be waived for any person for a longer period than one year.

In short, a medical examiner can be just a physician who bothers to get certified or they can be a serious forensic physician. Which one is Dr. Gupta?

• What is his medical-legal training?

• Which medical examiner’s professional association does he belong to?
• Is he eligible for certification by the American Board of Pathology or was that requirement waived?
• Has he done any autopsies?
• How many cases has he certified as an Medical Examiner as opposed to being a physician?
• Has he testified in court as a medical examiner?
• Has he ever served as an expert witness in the area of expertise of being a medical examiner?

Or, is the statement that Dr. Gupta is a certified medical examiner just more puffery?

Steven Miles, MD
Professor of Medicine with privileges

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Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.


May 6, 2011 at 7:26 pm
That’s all I’m saying….


May 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Thank you thank you thank you for asking this question Dr. Miles.


May 7, 2011 at 10:19 am

I am not sure I understand the point of this post. So, if Gupta is a physician who also “bothered” to get certified, is that a problem? Are you being critical of Gupta, who clearly obtained this additional training? Or, are you critical of the certification process? Personally, if Gupta has this additional training, I am interested to know this. Why do you lay bare questions in this blog that are intended to disparage, even though you don’t know the answers? That’s the role of an ethics academic? You wrote this in a pejorative manner with no substance. That is the worst sort of propaganda. I am most disappointed in Schwitzer, who should rail against this sort of blog (.5 star), yet instead promotes it. You have lost me on this one.

Steve Miles

May 7, 2011 at 9:01 pm

You are welcome, welcome, welcome.

Steve Miles

May 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Dear Darryl,
Dr. Gupta and CNN chose to proclaim that Dr. Gupta is a certified medical examiner in order to enhance his credibility in a story on the forensic identification of Osama Bin Laden’s body.
CNN and Dr. Gupta have not, to my knowledge made this claim about Dr. Gupta’s expertise before. The official CNN biography makes no mention of this certification or the training and experience which backs it up.
In this context, it is completely fair to ask what is behind the claim which is exactly what I did. CNN and Dr. Gupta are silent.
By the way, free speech is brave speech. Cowards and cheap shots work anonymously. Do you have a name and affiliation Darryl?

Kris Sperry, M. D.

May 13, 2011 at 11:55 am

I am the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Georgia. Any physician who desires to become a Medical Examiner must either be a pathologist, certified by the American Board of Pathology, or be a physician whose appointment is requested by a coroner in Georgia. All such requests must come through my office, and I am the single and sole individual who is responsible for issuing Medical Examiner certificates.
Dr. Gupta is a neurosurgeon, and to my knowledge, has never sought to be appointed as a Medical Examiner in Georgia, and I certainly have never issued him a certificate granting him such an appointment.

Gary Schwitzer

May 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I have sent messages to Dr. Gupta and to the CNN PR department asking for clarification on precisely what certification Dr. Gupta has received, when, and from whom.
The CNN website states that he is a “certified medical investigator.”
But on the air, in the clip provided above, he is identified as a “certified medical examiner.”
That is the title and the terminology to which Dr. Steven Miles reacted in his original blog post.

Steven Miles

May 14, 2011 at 8:09 am

A difference that matters.
Although the CNN official website biography claims (without listing the training or certifying body) that Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a “certified medical investigator,” its televised broadcasts claim that he is “certified medical examiner.” There is an important difference between these two credentials. Dr. Gupta and CNN surely know that a “certified medical investigator” – – requires nothing like the degree of training and job responsibilities of a “certified medical examiner” –
This is the record of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s televised claims (and non-claims) to be a “certified medical examiner.” Apparently he did not make this claim from 2005 to 2008. However in 2009, Dr. Gupta was identified as a “certified medical examiner” in his stories about Michael Jackson’s death. This new credential disappeared in subsequent stories on forensic medicine including stories on the Georgia forensics laboratory, the manner of death in drug executions and the arrest of a pedophile. Two years later, the claim to be a “certified medical examiner” resurfaced as he commented on the identification of Osama Bin Laden’s body.
2005: Gupta reports on a crime scene investigation and DOES NOT claim to be a medical examiner.
2005: Gupta interviews a medical examiner and DOES NOT claim to be a medical examiner.
2007: Gupta IS NOT identified as a medical examiner in discussing the medical examiner’s findings in Anna Nicole Smith’s death.
2008: Gupta DOES NOT claim to be a “certified medical examiner” in discussing the medical examiner’s findings in Keith Ledger’s death.
2008: Gupta DOES NOT claim to be a medical examiner in discussing a medical examiner’s opinion.
2009: Dr. Gupta DOES claim to be a medical examiner in relation to stories about Michael Jackson’s death.
2009: Dr. Gupta DOES NOT claim to be a medical examiner in his major feature, “Dr. Sanjay Gupta Explains Forensics” that was filmed at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
2009: Dr. Gupta DOES NOT claim to be a medical examiner in discussing the three-drug method of execution.
2010: Dr. Gupta DOES NOT claim to be a medical examiner as he describes the arrest of a pedophile.
2011: Dr. Gupta IS IDENTIFIED as a “certified medical examiner” in discussing the identification of the body of Osama Bin Laden.
The unexplained flickering of this noteworthy credential, the lack of information on how certification as a “medical examiner” was obtained and its absence on the CNN biography of Dr. Gupta merit explanation. CNN does a disservice to public forensic education and to the evolving professions of forensic medicine by suggesting that the two credentials are equivalent.


May 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Good catch, Dr. Miles. I expect better from Dr. Gupta, but not from CNN.

Steven Miles

May 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm

It’s a wrap. CNN, Sanjay Gupta, and journalist resume padding.
It is safe to assume that Dr. Sanjay Gupta is not now and never has been a “certified medical examiner” as he and CNN claimed in 2009 and 2011 in relation to covering the deaths of Michael Jackson and Osama Bin Laden. It is inconceivable that CNN or Dr. Gupta would not have vigorously and authoritatively refuted my challenge to this claim in the eleven days since I noted his resume padding and in the four days since the Chief Medical Examiner of Georgia said that Dr. Gupta was not a “certified medical examiner” in Georgia, his home state.
Dr. Gupta probably is, as the CNN website claims , a “Certified Medical Investigator.” I surmise that he took something like the 15 hour, web based, CMI-I (Certified Medical Investigator-Level 1) test in about 2009. That certificate is is offered by the American College of Forensic Examiners International . The certificate expires annually unless the certificant takes 15 hours of annual education updates. I would be surprised if Dr. Gupta has taken the annual updates. If I am correct, then Dr. Gupta WAS a certified medical investigator in the year he took the exam but he WOULD NOT BE ONE this year, 2011. At no time was he a “certified medical examiner” as he claimed on television. It is fair to make this assumption given that neither CNN, nor Dr. Gupta, will clarify his certification.
CNN covers many health stories. They have chosen to use an MD as their reporter on the health beat. Other equally diligent news outlets employ specially trained health-beat journalists. Reasonable people may differ on the relative merits of the two approaches.
Misrepresenting credentials is bad journalism. It misleads the audience about the expertise of the journalist. It leads the journalist to become a part of the story rather than a witness to the story. It muddies the credential as CNN and Dr. Gupta may have done by confounding the important distinctions between an entry level Medical Investigator and highly qualified Medical Examiner.
CNN and Dr. Sanjay Gupta might wish this story would go away. But journalistic credibility must be earned (and when it is lost reclaimed) with a full and honest accounting. We are waiting.
Steven Miles, MD
Professor of Medicine
University of Minnesota

Steven Miles

May 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I asked the American College of Forensic Examiners International to verify whether Dr. Sanjay Gupta had ever been certified as a medical investigator, at what level he was certified, and if he was currently certified as a medical investigator. Ordinarily, medically related certifying groups maintain public records of major certifications. Today, May 19, I received this response.
Dr. Miles,
I appreciate your inquiry into Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s status with the American College of Forensic Examiners.
However, I am unable to release any information without a signed release from the person in question.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.
Best regards,
Candice Sickman
ACFEI Member Services
2750 E Sunshine
Springfield, MO 65804


June 5, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Gary, why do you allow Steven Miles to “surmise” anything. He sounds so pedantic. I am a person who often touted your website, and helped your rankings. I am bitterly disappointed in you. How can you be a critic of journalism, when you allow this sort of unfettered attack occur. First off, you want your reader to believe Kris Sperry just happened to be frequenting your blog, and wasn’t asked to comment. Second, are you aware according to the state of Georgia’s website, Sperry is in fact a CMI, not a CME. And, a quick review of the ACF EI website shows a Dr Sanjay Guota was credentialed in 2004 for a 10 year term, a level 4 certification available to someone if they are an MD. I think Miles launched an ad hominem attack, recruited a public official to attempt to cover his but when he realized he was wrong, and then hoped the issue will disappear. It will not, and you should post my comments, which you have not done in the past.

Kris Sperry, M. D.

June 6, 2011 at 8:24 am

The link to the blog entry that brought up this issue regarding Dr. Gupta’s credentialing as a medical examiner was posted on the listserv of the National Association of Medical Examiners, after this blog entry was found by a NAME member. There were quite a number of humorous and sardonic posts to follow, since we all know Dr. Gupta is not and never has been a forensic pathologist. I chose to post an entry on this blog thread as Dr. Gupta is in Georgia, and I am the individual who appoints physicians as local medical examiners in Georgia. I do not know and have never known (or previously heard of) either Gary Schwitzer or Stephen Miles, and neither of them or anyone else “recruited” me to write anything. I don’t read their blogs or websites or anything else they contribute to, either. My points simply are: 1) Dr. Gupta is not and never will be a forensic pathologist, and thus cannot ever sit for the certification examination given by the American Board of Pathology (ABP). The ABP is the ONLY organization in Pathology that is recognized by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), which oversees all training programs in every aspect of all medical specialties in the United States. 2) Dr. Gupta is not and never has been a local medical examiner in the State of Georgia. 3) Dr. Gupta is not certified as a medico-legal death investigator by the American Board of Medico-legal Death Investigators (ABDMI), which is the only organization that certifies non-pathologist death investigators and this certification is the only certification that is recognized by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) for the purposes of obtaining NAME accreditation for a Medical Examiner’s Office. 4) “Certifications” by the American College of Forensic Examiners are irrelevant; this organization is not recognized by the ACGME, NAME, ABP, or any other professional organization of which I am aware. Finally, I am not exactly clear on the comment that “Kris Sperry is in fact a CMI, not a CME”; what I AM is a licensed physician, trained in anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology at an accredited training program, and certified by the American Board of Pathology in Anatomic, Clinical, and Forensic Pathology. I am also the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Georgia. And, that is no exaggeration.

Gary Schwitzer

June 6, 2011 at 8:36 am

You are absolutely wrong in your assertion about Dr. Sperry being asked to comment. Inaccurate. Unsubstantiated. And to use your word, a “surmise” on your part.
You are also inaccurate in your assertion that I “have not” posted your comments in the past. This very thread demonstrates that your comment of May 7 was posted. I rejected a followup comment because it violated the clearly-stated comment policy of my blog – and I notified you of this.

Steven Miles, MD

June 6, 2011 at 8:50 am

Dr. Sperry’s official state biography describes him as Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Georgia, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Division of Forensic Science.,2094,67862954_74917578,00.html
ACFEI is an educational society that does, as I noted, offer credentials as a medical investigator but not certification as a medical examiner.
Apparently courses offered by the ACFEI are not even approved for Continuing Education by the National Association of Medical Examiners although they do count as part of the annual continuing medical education that is required of any physician to maintain a license.
I have given verbatim my correspondence with ACFEI.
A Certified Medical Investigator-IV [copyright sign] from the ACFEI takes about $500 and four hours to complete the CME and test.
So far, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is not a Certified Medical Examiner as he claimed on air.
Steven Miles, MD
Professor of Medicine
University of Minnesota