An autopsy is a thorough examination of a body after death to help determine why (cause of death) and how (manner of death) the person died. Autopsies are required by law when a death is sudden and unexpected, occurs in a person who is not under a doctor's care, results from a crime or fatal accident, or occurs under suspicious circumstances.
An autopsy may be used to:
If an autopsy will be required by law, it will be ordered by the county coroner or medical examiner. Only a doctor, often one with special training (pathologist), can perform an autopsy. If an autopsy is not required by law, the person who requests one must be the deceased person's next of kin.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise