Frequently Asked Questions
What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is an external and internal examination of the body after death (post-mortem) using surgical techniques. A pathologist, a medical doctor specially trained in this procedure who is able to recognize the effects of disease on the body, performs it.
What is a Hospital Autopsy?
Any patient who dies while at a UTMB hospital may have an autopsy requested by the physician in charge of the case. In some special situations, the death falls under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner, who then decides when and how a post-mortem examination will be performed.
What is a Forensic Autopsy?
In instances in which the manner of death is not natural (for example, homicide, suicide, or accidental deaths) the Medical Examiner has jurisdiction to perform a post-mortem examination. This may be done at UTMB or at the Medical Examiner Office.
Who gives consent for an autopsy?
Consent to perform an autopsy is given by the legal next-of-kin, for example, the husband/wife, eldest child. A list is shown on Form 5012.
Who pays for the autopsy?
There is no charge for an autopsy on a patient who dies at UTMB. The Hospital incurs all costs of the procedure.
Why is an autopsy requested?
The primary purpose of an autopsy is to put to rest any questions the family or physician may still have about the illness, cause of death, or any coexisting conditions. Establishing an exact cause of death can be a source of comfort to families. The autopsy may also determine whether there are inheritable problems and help other family members through early diagnosis and treatment. Furthermore, what is learned through an autopsy on one patient may help save lives of others with similar conditions.
Will there be any disfigurement?
Incisions are planned to prevent any disfigurement. The deceased can still be viewed in an open coffin, usually without any evidence of an autopsy having been performed. The body of the deceased is treated with respect and dignity at all times.
What is a limited autopsy?
When the family gives consent for the autopsy, they may place restrictions on the procedure, such as limiting the examination to specific organs, to chest and/or abdomen only, or biopsy only.
Why is a full autopsy preferred?
Many diseases affect multiple organs and tissues. Thus, it is very important to document the full extent of the disease. Although the autopsy procedure may be limited to a particular organ or system, it is best that a full, comprehensive, complete autopsy is done. The Final Anatomic Diagnoses are a record of the examination of all organs and tissues, and will eliminate questions that may arise after the body is buried or cremated.
How long does an autopsy take?
The autopsy takes about two to four hours, and will not interfere with funeral arrangements.
Are there religious reasons not to perform an autopsy?
In most religions, the decision regarding an autopsy is left to the next-of-kin. Autopsies have been performed on individuals of all religious faiths. Family members are advised to discuss their decision with their religious or spiritual advisors.
Will I be able to view the body after an autopsy?
Yes. Incisions are planned to prevent any disfigurement. The deceased can still be viewed in an open coffin, usually without any evidence of an autopsy having been performed. The body of the deceased is treated with respect and dignity at all times.
What is an Autopsy Report and how do I obtain a copy?
A Final Anatomic Diagnoses Report is issued within 30-60 days in most cases. Family members may request this report from Health Information Management or the physician who cared for the decedent.