Health Library

Health Library

Autopsy

What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a medical examination of a body after death. Autopsies are done to determine cause of death or to confirm a suspected diagnosis.

Why is an autopsy performed?

Autopsies are performed for several reasons, including the following:

  • When a suspicious death occurs

  • When there's a public health concern, such as a mysterious disease

  • If someone dies unattended by a doctor, or if the attending doctor is uncomfortable signing the death certificate

  • The family or legally responsible designee of the deceased person can ask the doctor or authorities for an autopsy

Who performs the autopsy?

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

How is an autopsy performed?

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

  • First, a visual examination of the entire body is done, including the organs and internal structures.

  • Then, microscopic, chemical, and microbiological examinations 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 laboratory results are complete.

  • Autopsies are generally done without charge and may last 2 to 4 hours. 

Autopsy - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
© 2014 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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