Frequently Asked Questions

What is an autopsy?
An autopsy (post-mortem) is an external and internal examination of the body after death to evaluate disease or injury and to determine the cause and manner of a person’s death. An autopsy is performed by a pathologist, a medical doctor specially trained in this procedure who is an expertise in the examination of the effects of disease on the body. 

What is a UTMB Hospital Autopsy?
Any patient who dies while at an UTMB hospitals may have an autopsy requested by the physician(s) associated with the case.  There is no charge to the family for a hospital autopsy.   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.

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 treatments. Furthermore, what is learned through an autopsy on one patient may help save lives of others with similar conditions.

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.

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.

Required Autopsy
An autopsy is required when medical and legal issues that must be investigated by a medical examiner.  In some deaths an autopsy may be required and the medical examiner has the legal authority to order the autopsy without the consent of the legal next-of-kin.

Who can authorize an autopsy?  The order of priority is:

  • Spouse of the decedent;
  • Person acting as guardian of the person of the decedent at the time of death or the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate:
  • Adult children of the decedent;
  • Parents of the decedent; and
  • Adult siblings of the decedent.

How long does it take to perform an autopsy?
The autopsy takes about two to four hours, and will not interfere with funeral arrangements.

Who can consent to the disposition of organs, fluids, prosthetic devices and tissue after the autopsy?

  • Agent of the decedent at the time of the death;
  • The spouse of the decedent;
  • Adult children
  • Parents;
  • Adult siblings;
  • The persons who acting as guardians of the person at the time of death;
  • The hospital administrator
  • Any other person having the authority to dispose of the decedent’s body.

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.

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.

What is an Autopsy Report and how do I obtain a copy?
A Final Anatomic Diagnoses Report is a written autopsy report that is issued within 60 days in most cases. Family members may request the autopsy report from Health Information Management or from the physician who cared for the decedent.
What is the new Texas Law?
The Jerry Carswell Act, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Subchapter C, requires written informed consent from families for hospital or private autopsies.  The Act lists who can authorize the autopsy. 

Why do you have to complete all sections of the FORM 5012?
It’s required by the new State Law.

Who signs the death certificate (certify the death)?
Circumstances of death determine who may certify the cause and manner of death.  The certifier is responsible for verifying the date of death and completing the medical certification portion of the certificate of death. 

  • If the death is by natural causes, the death certificate should be completed and signed by the primary physician or the attending that was responsible for the care and treatment.
  • If the death is ruled unnatural and an inquest is conducted the death certificate should be completed and signed by the medical examiner.
  • If the autopsy is performed the death certificate should be completed and signed by the Pathologist.
  • The primary physician or attending cannot certify anything that is not a natural disease; this includes drug overdose, drowning, motor vehicle accidents, etc.

How many days does the medical certifier need to complete a death certificate online?
The medical certifier shall complete the medical certification no later than five (5) days after receiving the certificate electronically.

What is the different between a fetal death and infant death?
A fetal death is a death that occurred before labor or during labor or delivery.  An infant death is a death that occurred after delivery, up to one year of age.

is the different between a fetal death certificate and an infant death certificate?

  • For an infant death, a standard death certificate should be completed and signed by the primary physician or the attending that was responsible for the care and treatment no later than five days after receiving the certificate electronically.
  • For a fetus weighing 350 grams or more or the weight is unknown, a fetus aged 20 weeks requires a pink fetal death certificate. The primary physician or the attending that was responsible for the delivery must complete the pink fetal death certificate. The fetal death certificate is not filed electronically but must be filed within five days of the death. 

What is the number for the TER Help Desk?
1-888-963-7111 extension 3490