Several things can interfere
with the autopsy and the results.
Ideally, an autopsy should be done in a timely
fashion, generally within several days of death. In some cases, such as
evaluation for metabolic disease in an unborn baby (fetus) or
infant, prompt tissue sampling is important to improve the likelihood of
establishing a diagnosis. But even after a number of days, an autopsy may still
provide useful information.
The training and experience of the
pathologist may influence the quality of the autopsy. Access to consultant
pathologists with training in specialized areas and to other experts, such as
toxicologists and geneticists, may be helpful in complicated cases. For
example, neuropathologists have special expertise in the diagnosis of
neurological (brain) diseases; pediatric pathologists may have special
expertise in diseases of infants or unborn babies. Families may wish to talk with
their doctor for assistance in finding a competent, experienced
Autopsy procedures may differ for each deceased person
depending on the medical history of the person, the circumstances surrounding
the death, questions the person's doctors and family members would like
answered, and the findings at the initial dissection. It is important that the
family members and doctors discuss their questions and concerns with the
pathologist before the autopsy is performed, so that the autopsy can be
individualized and samples can be obtained that may allow performance of
specialized tests. Samples may not be retained for specialized tests (such as
genetic, toxicology, or paternity testing) unless specific requests are made at
the time of the autopsy.
Autopsy is not an accepted procedure for
some cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. If an autopsy is not required by
law because of the circumstances of death, it will not be performed unless the
family gives specific permission.