by Editorial Staff and Contributors
An autopsy is a surgical procedure to examine the body and its internal organs after death.
Reasons for Procedure TOP
An autopsy is not done after every death. An autopsy may be done at the request of the family or doctor. Reasons for autopsy include:
Possible Complications TOP
Autopsies may not be able to provide exact answers on cause of death.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
Before an autopsy, there must be positive identification of the body. An autopsy permit must be signed by the legal next-of-kin. The body is transported to the morgue and held in a refrigeration unit until the autopsy.
Description of the Procedure
Autopsies follow this general procedure:
The body is sewn back together after the autopsy is complete. Procedures vary regarding organ replacement. Dissected organs may be returned to the body or incinerated. If the organs are not returned to the body, the mortician will put filler in the body cavity to retain the body's shape.
Immediately After Procedure TOP
Tissue samples may be sent to a lab for analysis. Results are available within a few weeks. A final autopsy report is usually completed in 30 to 60 days.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
The autopsy typically takes 2-4 hours, depending on the reason and level of complexity.
Getting Autopsy Results TOP
Contact your local Medical Examiner's office on how to request an autopsy report.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Autopsy. FamilyDoctor.org website. Available at: http://familydocto.... Updated January 2012. Accessed November 19, 2012.
An introduction to autopsy technique. College of American Pathologists website. Available at: http://www.cap.org.... Published 2005. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Autopsy: aiding the living by understanding the death. College of American Pathologists website. Available at: http://www.cap.org... . Updated March 3, 2010. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 5/11/2013