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.