Autopsy Q&A by Dr. Stöppler

What happens in the case grieving family members disagree as to whether an autopsy should be performed?

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


Unless the case has medicolegal implications and an autopsy is ordered by the coroner or medical examiner, the next-of-kin of the deceased has the legal right to make the decision. A person's spouse is considered to be their nearest relative, followed by any adult children (usually in order of age from eldest to youngest), their own parents, and any siblings. Relatives by marriage (such as a daughter- or son-in-law) are never considered as next-of-kin. The pathologist must abide by the decision of the deceased's next-of-kin.

In rare cases there may be a question as to who is the closest relative. In such cases, the hospital legal department can help to clarify the situation and determine who has legal authority to give consent for an autopsy.

Thank you for your question.

Last Editorial Review: 11/15/2006

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