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When someone dies, doctors may request permission from the family to do an autopsy. During a time of loss and sadness, many families find it difficult to make this decision. Families may be unsure why an autopsy is required, or they may have concerns about what will occur during the operation. Families may be concerned about the procedure’s impact on funeral plans or cultural traditions. We have prepared this information to answer some of the common questions that arise about autopsy.

Here are the 5 most common questions about autopsy.

1.) What is an autopsy?


An autopsy is a post-mortem examination used to identify the cause and manner of death. To accomplish this judgment, it employs evisceration techniques that are similar to surgical operations. Only particular parts of the body or organs are examined in partial autopsy. All organs, from the tongue to the reproductive organ, including the brain, are removed during forensic autopsy. Depending on the damage, disease process, or diagnoses, it might affect other parts of the body, such as the skin and muscle.

2.) Can we still have a viewing?

Autopsies use the Y-incision. This incision extends from the shoulders to the middle of the chest. This technique allows the incision to be hidden by clothing so a viewing can still be preformed. The removal of the brain also involves incisions and the careful reflection of the scalp so that the procedure hidden by hair or funeral pillows. Major vessels are left intact so that the funeral home can still embalm the decedent properly.

In order to completely investigate a death, additional incisions may be required. When this happens, every effort is made to avoid disrupting the potential for a viewing.

3.) What reasons would an autopsy be done?

There are 3 key reasons.


1.) The exam is under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner, and an autopsy is required to determine the reason and manner of death or to investigate a possible crime. The medical examiner’s jurisdiction extends to deaths that are suspicious or unexpected, such as those of a murder victim or a young person with no known ailments. Medical examiner instances include deaths that are caused by accidents, such as car accidents, or suicides, such as hangings. Another factor is the possibility of a public health danger.

2.) The person died in the hospital, and the next of kin has requested that an autopsy be performed. An autopsy may be performed for a variety of reasons, including to determine whether a surgical treatment was performed incorrectly, to better understand their disease process, or to get additional information for living family members regarding potential health hazards.

3.) A pathologist is hired by the family to conduct an exam outside of a hospital environment. In some circumstances, the person did not die in a hospital and died in a natural manner that does not fall under the authority of the medical examiner. In some circumstances, the family may choose to learn more about how or why a person died and will be responsible for paying for the examination.

4.) Who can request an autopsy?

If the criteria meets medical examiner jurisdiction, a medical examiner can request an autopsy. Otherwise, the only individual who can request an autopsy is the deceased person’s next of kin. In these cases, the family might request that an autopsy be performed by the hospital or by a pathologist outside the hospital at their expense.

5.) How long does it take to get the results?

The timeframe for autopsy reports can take weeks to months to complete, with some lasting a year or longer.

The time it takes to get a completed report depends on a multitude of factors, such as:

  • Where the autopsy was performed
  • how busy the department, pathologist, or agency may be
  • what tests were requested
  • how complicated the case was
  • What additional testing is needed
  • How long it takes to complete and review microscope slides
  • If toxicology is done (blood from a deceased person is more complicated)

These just a few examples of the factors that need to be considered when determining how long an autopsy report may take. For more answers to common questions about autopsy, click here.


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