What is a forensic autopsy?

  • 8 August 2023

The forensic autopsy is an internal and external examination of the body after death using surgical techniques to determine the presence of an injury and / or to identify any disease that may have caused or contributed to the death. It is performed by a forensic pathologist, a medical doctor specially trained in this type of procedure who is able to recognize diseases or patterns of injury, collect evidence and investigate the circumstances surrounding the death. This examination may be comprehensive or may be limited to a particular organ or system.

The autopsy room is regarded as a special place for gathering medical knowledge. An air of dignity and respect for the decedent is maintained at all times. Small samples of each organ are taken for microscopic examination to look for disease such as malignancy or infection. Specimens may be taken as evidence in criminal related deaths. Other tests that may be performed include testing for drugs, chemicals, or toxic substances. The final report may take many weeks to prepare due to detailed studies that may be performed. If this is the case, the death certificate will be issued with ‘pending’ as the cause of death while the medical examiner awaits the results of these tests.

The autopsy report becomes a permanent part of the decedent’s medical record.

The completed report, unless withheld pending criminal investigation, is available to the family and the findings may be discussed at length with your physician or with the pathologist.