Reasons for Procedure
- To answer questions about the health (prior to death) of the deceased
- To determine the exact cause of death
- To resolve legal or medical concerns
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Description of the Procedure
- External examination—The body is measured. Any abnormality of the body surface is recorded.
Opening the body:
- A Y-shaped cut is made in the skin. It starts at the front of each shoulder and goes around the navel and down to the pubic bone. The skin, muscle, and soft tissues are separated from the chest wall.
- Each side of the rib cage is cut with an electric saw to provide access to the heart and lungs.
- The abdominal muscle is moved to expose the abdominal organs.
Major Organs—Male Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
- Organ removal—Using special techniques, the organs are cut and removed from the body. All organs (heart, lungs, liver, intestines, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, spleen, and pelvic organs) and the major arteries are examined individually. They are weighed, washed, and dissected as necessary. Some tissue samples may be removed for further lab examination.
- Brain removal—A deep cut is made into the scalp. The incision runs from behind one ear, over the crown of the head, to behind the other ear. Skin and soft tissues are peeled down across the face in the front to the nape of the neck in the back. An electric saw is used to cut through the skull. The brain is lifted and placed in a preserving solution for two weeks. This makes it firmer and easier to handle.
Immediately After Procedure
How Long Will It Take?
Getting Autopsy Results
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality http://www.ahrq.gov
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians http://familydoctor.org
Canadian Institutes of Health Research http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Autopsy. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/healthcare-management/end-of-life-issues/autopsy.html. Updated January 2012. Accessed November 19, 2012.
An introduction to autopsy technique. College of American Pathologists website. Available at: http://www.cap.org/apps/cap.portal?%5Fnfpb=true&cntvwrPtlt%5FactionOverride=%2Fportlets%2FcontentViewer%2Fshow&%5FwindowLabel=cntvwrPtlt&cntvwrPtlt%7BactionForm.contentReference%7D=committees%2Fautopsy%2Fautopsy%5Findex.html&%5Fstate=maximized&%5FpageLabel=cntvwr. Accessed November 19, 2012.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 12/2014 -
- Update Date: 12/20/2014 -
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
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