Autopsy (Post Mortem Examination, Necropsy)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

What are the benefits of autopsies?

Benefits for families: For families, the autopsy has both tangible and psychological benefits. Uncertainty regarding the cause of an individual's death can delay payment of insurance benefits. The autopsy can also uncover genetic or environmental (for example, a bacterium or fungus) causes of disease that could affect other family members. Psychologically, the autopsy provides closure by identifying or confirming the cause of death. The autopsy can demonstrate to the family that the care provided was appropriate, thereby alleviating guilt among family members and offering reassurance regarding the quality of medical care. Lastly, the autopsy is a mechanism that enables the family to participate in medical education and research.

Benefits for the clinician and hospital: The procedure can confirm the accuracy of the clinical diagnoses and the appropriateness of medical care. The autopsy findings can be utilized to educate physicians, nurses, residents, and students, thereby contributing to an improved quality of care.

Benefits to society: Many of the benefits of the autopsy are experienced by society as a whole. The autopsy aids in the evaluation of new diagnostic tests, the assessment of new therapeutic interventions (drugs, devices, surgical techniques), and the investigation of environmental and occupational diseases. Autopsy data are useful in establishing valid mortality statistics. Data derived from death certificates in the absence of autopsy data have repeatedly been shown to be inaccurate. New medical knowledge on existing diseases that is derived from autopsy-based research is clearly important for everyone. Remarkably, new diseases continue to emerge which can only be fully investigated by autopsy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/30/2016

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