An autopsy is a thorough examination of a body after death to help
determine why (cause of death) and how (manner of death) the person died.
Autopsies are required by law when a death is sudden and unexpected, occurs in
a person who is not under a doctor's care, results from a crime or fatal
accident, or occurs under suspicious circumstances.
An autopsy may be used to:
Determine as precisely as possible which
disease or injury caused the death. This can provide family members with
information about diseases or conditions that they also may be at risk for
developing. This information also may be needed when the death may have been
related to a crime or accident.
Confirm a disease diagnosis made
before death (such as Alzheimer's disease), help understand how a given disease
progresses, and determine the effectiveness of the treatment for that
Help health departments or other government agencies
identify and track a disease or situation that might threaten public health
(such as a suspected contagious disease or contaminated drinking water).
If an autopsy will be required by law, it will be ordered by the
county coroner or medical examiner. Only a doctor, often one with special
training (pathologist), can perform an autopsy. If an autopsy is not required
by law, the person who requests one must be the deceased person's next
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.