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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is an autopsy?
What is a Hospital Autopsy?
What is a Forensic Autopsy?
Who gives consent for an autopsy?
Who pays for the autopsy?
Why is an autopsy requested?
Will there be any disfigurement?
Why is a full autopsy preferred?
How long does it take?
Are there religious reasons not to perform an autopsy?
What is a restricted autopsy?
Will I be able to view the body after an autopsy?
What is an Autopsy Report and how do I obtain a copy?
What is the Death Certificate process?
How do I obtain a copy of the Death Certificate?

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.

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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.

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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’s facility.

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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 the consent form.

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Who pays for the autopsy?
There is no charge for an autopsy on a patient who dies at UTMB. The Autopsy Service incurs all costs of the procedure.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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What is a restricted 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.

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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.

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What is an Autopsy Report and how do I obtain a copy?
A Preliminary Anatomic Diagnoses Report of all-important findings of the autopsy is issued within 24 hours of completion of the autopsy. For a nominal fee, family members may obtain a copy of this report from the UTMB Health Information Management (HIM). A Final Anatomic Diagnoses Report is issued within 30-60 days in most cases. Family members may also request this report from HIM. It is recommended that the family obtain the more complete, Final Anatomic Diagnoses Report, since this report is more complete, and may contain changes in the preliminary diagnoses following microscopic and other special studies.

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What is the Death Certification Process?
Death certificate is completed on-line by either the pronouncing physician or (in cases with autopsy), the pathologist. Death certificates are to be completed within 10 days of the death. Instructions for completing the death certificate can be found at the link below:

http://intranet.utmb.edu/decedent/DeathCertificateSample/index.htm

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How do I obtain a copy of the Death Certificate?
Typically funeral directors will provide a copy of the death certificate. Family members who would like to obtain additional copies of the death certificate should contact the Bureau of Vital Statistics at (409) 765-2595.

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