For many families, the decision about whether to ask for an autopsy on a loved one can be hard. Your religion, cultural beliefs or ethnic background can affect your decision of whether or not to have an autopsy done. It may help to talk with a counselor or member of the clergy during this process.
An autopsy can answer questions about why your loved one died. After your loved one is buried or cremated, it may be too late to find out the cause of death. In this article, I want to address some of the questions you may have concerning an autopsy.
What is an autopsy? An autopsy is a complete and thorough medical examination of a body after death. A pathologist who specializes in examining body tissues and fluid usually performs an autopsy. The purpose of an autopsy is to find out how and why a person died. A pathologist who specializes in examining body tissues and fluid usually performs an autopsy. The type of autopsy and exactly what is done during examination depends on the circumstances of the death and what specific issues are being looked at during that time.
What is done during this thorough examination? Several detailed things happen during the examination of an autopsy. A brief overview of an autopsy involves these vital points:
First, a comprehensive evaluation of the deceased’s medical history and the circumstances leading to the death takes place. The examiner gathers information and documents evidence on and around the body. This gathering involves taking pictures and making notes about marks or injuries on the body. Then, a detailed head- toe outer examination is done on the body.
Once this is done, the inside of the body is examined. At this point, the examiner may remove organs and take tissue and fluid samples from the body. These samples are put under a microscope and tested to see if any disease, infection or drugs are found in the body.
Finally, the examiner will do a written report, which involves two important things: an explanation of the findings of this examination and the conclusions, which will identify the cause and manner of death.
How do I know which type of an autopsy will be done? Most autopsies advance medical knowledge and provide evidence for legal action. Medically, autopsies determine the exact cause and circumstances of death, discover the pathway of a disease, and provide valuable information to be used in the care of the living.
When foul play is suspected, a medical examiner performs autopsies for legal use. Forensic specialists investigate deaths resulting from violence or occurring under suspicious circumstances. The law may require this type of autopsy in certain cases, such as sudden or unexpected death; death caused by an injury, including suicide, murder, an accident, drug overdose, or poisoning; and deaths that are suspicious.
Stayed tuned for Part 2 of this article, which will focus on the purpose of an autopsy and the many misconceptions about the autopsy.
Michael Fowler Sr., CFSP, is president of the Georgia Funeral Service Practitioners Association and is a retired death investigation specialist/forensic pathology assistant with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab.