Do They Do an Autopsy on the Whole Body?

  • 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.

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Ask the experts

When an autopsy is performed, is it done on the whole body?

Doctor's response

Medical autopsies (not involving suspicious deaths or medicolegal issues) begin with a thorough external examination of the body before any incisions are made. However, the internal examination of organs and tissues usually is limited to the chest, abdomen, and brain in these cases.

Family members can, however, restrict the autopsy and exclude one or more areas of the body, or they may stipulate exactly which areas of the body or organs may be examined. This is done in writing on the official autopsy permit, which must be signed by the next-of-kin of the deceased.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


"Investigations and Autopsies"
Public Health Law Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Reviewed on 8/31/2017

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