Should I Request an Autopsy After a Death?

A cadaver on and autopsy table
Darrin Klimek / Getty Images

An autopsy or post-mortem examination is a surgical procedure performed by a forensic pathologist to examine a deceased human body and its organs to determine the cause of death. If authorities consider a death suspicious, they will order an autopsy, but as of 2007, fewer than 9% of all deaths in the U.S. are autopsied.

Reasons Why Requesting an Autopsy May Be Important

Even in cases of natural death, however, the next-of-kin may still wish to request an autopsy for several reasons:

  • To confirm a medical diagnosis made before the death involving a genetic disease that could affect surviving family members. While advancements have been made in accurately diagnosing Alzheimer’s, for example, a brain autopsy remains the only method of confirming the disease.
  • If the death was unexpected — particularly if it occurred during a health-related procedure, such as surgery, giving birth, etc.
  • When knowing the precise cause of death could impact legal matters, such as payment of an insurance policy.
  • To further the study, understanding or treatment of a disease in order to possibly benefit others in the future.

Before requesting an autopsy, the next-of-kin should thoroughly consider the possible ramifications, which might include:

  • The effect of the post-mortem procedure on grieving survivors. An autopsy involves making incisions in the chest and/or skull of the deceased in order to inspect/remove organs, which some loved ones might find an unpleasant idea.
  • Cultural or religious acceptance. For example, both Orthodox and Conservative Jewish law generally prohibit autopsies because of the belief in the inviolability of the body after death.
  • Additional financial obligation. The cost of the autopsy might be charged to the family if not ordered by a medical examiner.
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Article Sources

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