(Post Mortem Examination, Necropsy)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Autopsy facts

  • An autopsy is the examination of the body of a dead person.
  • An autopsy may be restricted to a specific organ or region of the body.
  • Autopsies are performed to determine the cause of death, for legal purposes, and for education and research.
  • The body is opened in a manner that does not interfere with an open casket service.
  • The autopsy rate has dropped from 50% to less than 10% over the past fifty years.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/27/2014

Who has access to autopsy information, is it a matter of public record?

Who Has Access to Autopsy Information

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Viewer Question: Who has access to the information obtained from an autopsy? Can this information (e.g. about hereditary diseases or conditions that may run in our family) be obtained by third parties?

Doctor's Response: The same rules of doctor-patient confidentiality apply to autopsy examinations as to medical records of living patients. This means that doctors are not allowed to reveal the results of an autopsy examination to third parties without the permission of the next-of-kin of the deceased.

In many medical centers, the autopsy report is first submitted to the physician who treated the patient; the treating physician then shares the findings with the family. The family (next-of-kin) is always entitled to receive a copy of the autopsy report. The hospital is not allowed to give out any information about an autopsy or to respond to inquiries about an autopsy from any third parties. Of course, the family may choose to share the information with anyone they wish, but they must give written permission for the hospital to release autopsy records, just as with any medical records.