Office of Decedent Affairs
An autopsy is a medical examination of the body of a person who has died. The purpose of an autopsy is to answer questions about the person’s illness or the cause of death. In addition, autopsies provide valuable information that helps doctors save the lives of others. Specially trained physicians, called pathologists, perform autopsies.
Around the time of death, a member of the care team will ask the patient’s family to sign a form giving or denying permission for an autopsy. In the case of a suspicious or sudden death, an autopsy may be required by law.
The Value of Autopsy
For families, patients and society:
- Answers questions about cause of death
- Can assist in resolving grief and guilt
- Helps in settling insurance claims and in assigning death benefits
- Helps identify familial disorders
- Helps to ensure that the quality of medical diagnostics and care is high
- Helps to identify environmental/occupational health risks
- Helps to identify trends in infectious diseases
- Improves the accuracy of vital statistics
For physicians and hospitals:
- Answers questions related to cause of death
- Allows self-evaluation of treatment practices and efficacy of therapy
- Helps monitor quality of care
- Helps to evaluate new diagnostic and therapeutic methods
- Helps to provide medico-legal information
First, a pathologist looks at the outside of the body for clues about the cause of death. Next, she or he examines the internal organs, taking samples as needed to look at under a microscope. The procedure takes place in the UMHS Morgue Suite in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.
Family may request that certain parts of the body remain untouched.
Organ and Tissue Donation/Anatomical Donation
If the patient wished to donate organs or tissue, this can be done prior to an autopsy. In some cases, whole body donation may be possible after an autopsy.
Viewing, Timing of Funeral or Burial
An autopsy does not disfigure the body or prevent an open-casket ceremony. It does not delay a funeral or cremation. Autopsies take from two to four hours to complete.
The first findings from an autopsy are usually ready in two to three days. A final report may take many more weeks due to the detailed studies performed on tissue samples.
The Office of Decedent Affairs 734-232-4919 can assist the family in setting up a meeting to review the autopsy results with the patient’s physician and can help the family get a copy of the written report.
There is no charge to families for autopsies of patients who have died at UMHS.
Information is adapted from Autopsy: Life’s Final Chapter, American Medical Association, Young Physicians Section, 2002