What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is a medical exam of a body after death.
Why is an autopsy done?
Autopsies may be done for several reasons, including the following:
When a suspicious or unexpected death occurs
When there's a public health concern, such as an outbreak with an undetermined cause
When no doctor knows the deceased well enough to state a cause of death and to sign the death certificate
When the doctor, the family or legally responsible designee of the deceased person requests an autopsy
Who does the autopsy?
Autopsies ordered by the state can be done by a county coroner, who is not necessarily a doctor. A medical examiner who does an autopsy is a doctor, usually a pathologist. Clinical autopsies are always done by a pathologist.
How is an autopsy done?
Autopsy procedure begins with the general and ends with the specific:
First, a visual exam of the entire body is done, including the organs and internal structures.
Then, microscopic, chemical, and microbiological exams may be made of the organs, fluids, and tissues.
All organs removed for examination are weighed, and a section is preserved for processing into microscopic slides.
A final report is made after all lab tests are complete.
Autopsies may last 2 to 4 hours. The results of lab tests on samples of body fluids and tissues may take a few weeks to be returned.
March 21, 2017
Holladay, BS, When Families Ask About An Autopsy, American Journal of Nursing (2016); 116/8; 11
Greco, Frank, MD,Karlin, Ronald, MD