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What To Think About

  • In some situations, CT scans and MRI imaging tests may provide an alternative ("virtual autopsy") to a traditional autopsy. This may be useful in cases where religious beliefs prevent cutting into the body after death.
  • Organ or tissue removal for donation purposes requires separate permission from an autopsy.
  • If a family requests an autopsy, the consent form generally describes the details of the autopsy, especially with respect to retention of organs and tissues for teaching. The requesting family member should make sure that the details of the autopsy are fully understood.
  • A family can request that a hospital do an autopsy on a person who died there. In some hospitals, there is no charge for this service. In some teaching hospitals, a person who died outside of the hospital (for example, at a nursing home or at home) may be autopsied at the hospital at no charge. If an autopsy is required by law, there is no charge to the family. But charges should be clarified before the procedure is performed since many hospitals charge for autopsies and insurance generally does not pay for autopsies.
  • An autopsy does not prevent the body from being viewed in an open casket. Generally, none of the incisions made during the autopsy will show after the body is prepared for viewing. The rare exception to this is with autopsies in which injuries on the face, scalp, or hands are evaluated. These autopsies may leave some marks that are visible during viewing of the body.
  • If an autopsy is being performed at the request of the family, the family may request that the examination be restricted or limited to certain parts of the body. It is important to discuss these restrictions with the pathologist to ensure that the requested examination allows the pathologist to answer the family's questions about the death.
  • Autopsies to determine natural causes of death are not done as often now as they were in the past. But when death has most likely occurred from natural disease, an autopsy can uncover information that is very valuable to the deceased person's doctor and family.

Other Works Consulted

  • Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2013). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 6th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

  • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last RevisedApril 18, 2013

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 18, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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