What if You Get Put in the Morgue While You're Still Alive?

  • 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: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

Do the drawer doors of the cases where the dead bodies are kept in the morgue have handles on the inside just in case? This has crossed my mind a million times over, it must be some weird phobia.

Doctor's response

I have never seen drawer doors in a morgue refrigerator (bodies are stored at a cool temperature) that have handles on the inside. I assume you are wondering what would happen if a person were mistaken for dead and taken to the morgue while still alive. Doctors must conduct a physical examination to legally declare that a person is dead. This examination involves listening for the absence of heart sounds and carotid artery pulse, listening and looking for the absence of respirations, and checking the pupils for the absence of the papillary light reflex (constricting in response to light). The body of the deceased is also examined by members of the nursing staff and by morgue personnel. In short, it is extremely unlikely that a living person could ever be placed inside a morgue refrigerator.

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

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Last Editorial Review: 7/17/2017

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