Autopsy

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What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a medical exam of the body of a person who has died. The purpose of an autopsy is to answer questions about the person's illness or the cause of death. In addition, autopsies provide valuable information that helps doctors save the lives of others. Specially trained doctors, called pathologists, perform autopsies.

Who may request an autopsy?

You can request an autopsy if you are the person's next of kin or the legally responsible party. Your doctor will ask you to sign a consent form to give permission for the autopsy. You may limit the autopsy in any manner you wish.

However, if the cause of death is unclear, the pathologist may perform an autopsy without the family's permission.

What is the procedure for an autopsy?

First, the pathologist looks at the body for clues about the cause of death. Next, he or she examines the internal organs, taking samples as needed to look at under a microscope. The autopsy takes from 2 to 4 hours. The autopsy room looks similar to an operating room. An atmosphere of dignity and respect for the deceased is maintained at all times.

What does an autopsy cost?

Because autopsies help doctors learn more about illness and ways to improve medical care, autopsies are usually performed without charge.

Will an autopsy interfere with funeral arrangements?

No. Pathologists perform autopsies in a way that doesn't interfere with burial or cremation. Once the autopsy is completed, the hospital tells the funeral home. An autopsy won't delay funeral services.

When will the results of an autopsy be known?

The first findings from an autopsy are usually ready in 2 to 3 days. The doctor can review these results with you. A final report may take many weeks because of the detailed studies performed on tissue samples. The doctor will also review the final report with you.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 01/12
Created: 09/00

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