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What Happens During an Autopsy?

Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:20 AM

Autopsy is a surgical procedure of comprehensive examination of a person’s body and organs after death. A pathologist performs it in the presence of a medical examiner. The dead body is dissected and all the body parts and organs are examined to determine the exact cause of death. In case of sudden death or death due to any medical condition where doctors fail to understand the exact reason for death, an autopsy can be performed after taking due permission from the family of the deceased. However, forensic autopsy does not require family consent in criminal cases if conducted in the presence of a medical examiner.

Types of Autopsy

An autopsy is usually carried out in three conditions:
  • Clinical autopsy: This is performed on a corpse if the person died because of any medical condition while under treatment or in cases of sudden death where the doctors fail to establish what caused the death. It provides information regarding the time and cause of death, necessary for issuance of a death certificate. Specialized medical practitioners called pathologists and a medical examiner perform this type of autopsy.
  • Forensic autopsy: If a body is associated with some crime or in murder cases, this method is used to collect any available forensic evidence such as traces of poison, bullets, injuries etc. The presence of a medical examiner is mandatory in forensic autopsy. Based on the forensic evidence, the death is classified as an accident, suicide, or murder by the medical examiner. The state medical examiner completes the autopsy report stating the cause of death. This is a primary requirement for any criminal investigation. The information generated by forensic autopsy, as certified by the medical examiner, guides the police authorities in further investigation of the criminal case and in ultimately determining culpability, if it exists.
  • Academic autopsy: This is research performed for academic purposes, for instance to teach medical students about anatomy of human body parts and organs. This autopsy studies organs and anatomical features of the human body for academic and research purposes. A person usually donates the dead body and organs used in this before his or her death or unclaimed dead bodies may be used after necessary legal formalities.

The pathologist usually conducts an autopsy under the supervision of the appointed medical examiner. It is a strenuous process involving external examination followed by internal examination and analysis of each body organ without disfiguring the face and limbs. After analysis, all the organs are sewn back inside the body. Let us discuss what really happens during the whole procedure.
  • External examination: In forensic autopsy, the dead body is laid on the examining table and each and every part of the body is scanned for the presence of any foreign body fluid like blood, semen, scars, bullet wounds, or any other marks. Photographs of these marks are taken for use as forensic evidence in the presence of the medical examiner. Any remnants of body parts such as skin, hair, or tissues of the culprit are collected for further forensic DNA analysis. All clothes are removed and the body is washed, weighed, and prepared for internal examination.
  • Internal examination: It involves detailed and extensive examination of the internal body organs. First, the pathologist cuts the body open in the presence of the medical examiner by making a Y-shaped incision starting behind the ears on both sides and meeting at the sternum or chest bone and then continuing straight down to the pubic region. The pathologist then removes all the internal organs and examines each of them for the presence of any cuts or changes in vascular or nervous network. In certain clinical or forensic cases, the viscera may be sent for lab analysis for determining pathology. In cases where the person has given consent for organ donation prior to his/her death, the organs are removed for transplantation (within three to six hours of death) or donation for research and education purposes. 
Upon completion of the procedure, the organs are kept put inside the body and the incision is sewn up. Some autopsies even include analysis of the brain, which requires breaking the skull and examining the brain and its parts.
After the procedure is complete, the corpse is returned to either the family or the morgue as per circumstances.

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Autopsy or postmortem is the procedure of complete external and internal examination of a body after death. A pathologist examines all organs in the presence of a medical examiner. It is also helpful in determining the time and exact cause of death.
autopsy, death, organs, forensic, examiner
Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:20 AM
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