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Why It Is Done
autopsy is done to:
- Determine as precisely as possible what caused
the death. This can sometimes give family members information about
diseases or conditions that they also may be at risk for developing.
- Confirm or exclude a disease diagnosis made before death (such as
Alzheimer's disease). An autopsy also may be done to
help understand how a given disease progresses or to determine the
effectiveness of the treatment for that disease.
- Document the
presence of a disease that was undiagnosed before death.
samples of body fluids or tissues for possible genetic testing. This is
generally done only after discussion with the deceased person's
- Collect evidence and information in criminal
- Help health departments or other government agencies
identify and track a disease or potential public health hazard (such as a
suspected contagious disease or contaminated drinking water).
How To Prepare
When an autopsy is not required by law, the deceased person's family must give permission before the autopsy is
done. The laws governing who can give permission for an autopsy vary from state
to state. Generally, a consent form must be signed in the presence of a
designated witness. Some areas may allow witnessed phone consent
How It Is Done
Before the autopsy
Before the autopsy is done, as much
information as possible is gathered about the person who died and the events
that led to the death. This includes reviewing medical records and consulting
with the person's doctors about previous medical problems. Other information
may be gathered by interviewing family members, investigating the area where
the person died, and studying the circumstances surrounding the death.
Depending on the circumstances of the death, law enforcement and the medical
examiner's or coroner's office may be involved in the investigation.
Procedures done during the autopsy may vary depending on the
circumstances surrounding the death, whether the medical examiner or coroner is
involved, and what specific issues are being evaluated during the autopsy. In
some cases, family members agreeing to the autopsy may limit what can be done
during the autopsy.
During the autopsy