Autopsy Q & A by Dr. Stoppler

Are there any circumstances when an autopsy is mandatory?

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

Answer:

Yes, an autopsy can be ordered by authorities without relatives' consent in several situations. For example, in all U.S. states, an autopsy can be ordered if there is suspicion of foul play. This type of autopsy is referred to as a forensic autopsy and is performed to gather information of interest to authorities and to determine the manner of death (homicide, suicide, accident, natural death, or undetermined manner).

In most states, autopsies may also be ordered if there is a belief that the death represents a significant public health concern (such as from a threatening infectious disease), if a person inexplicably dies who was not under medical care, who was receiving medical care from a physician for less than 24 hours, or if a person dies from an injury, such as an automobile accident. Autopsies that are ordered by authorities are performed and evaluated in the medical examiner's office or coroner's office.

If an autopsy is not required by law or ordered by authorities, the deceased person's next of kin must give permission for an autopsy to be performed.

Thank you for your question.


Last Editorial Review: 11/8/2006