What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is an examination of a body after death. Autopsies are performed to determine cause of death, or to verify diagnosis.

Why is an autopsy performed?

Autopsies are performed for several reasons, including the following:

  • When a suspicious death occurs, an autopsy is usually ordered.

  • An autopsy can be ordered when there is some public health concern, such as a mysterious disease.

  • An autopsy may be ordered if someone dies unattended by a physician, or if the attending physician is uncomfortable signing the death certificate.

  • The family of the deceased person can ask the hospital to perform an autopsy.

Who performs the autopsy?

Autopsies ordered by the state can be performed by a county coroner, who is not necessarily a physician. A medical examiner who performs an autopsy is usually a pathologist.

How is an autopsy performed?

Autopsy procedure begins with the general and ends with the specific:

  • First, a visual examination takes place of the entire body, as well as the organs and internal structures.

  • Then, microscopic, chemical, and microbiological examinations may be made of the organs 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 laboratory results are complete.

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