Getting an Autopsy: The Coroner’s Requirements and Private Autopsies
By Jessica Powell, Burg Simpson Associate
Your loved one has passed and you are full of questions. Perhaps you seek peace of mind, or perhaps you suspect that something went wrong. Regardless, you are considering having an autopsy performed. Unfortunately, the autopsy process is mysterious to most. We hope to be able to take the mystery away from the process and to provide you useful information to help you determine whether you want to have an autopsy performed and, if so, how to obtain one.
Doesn’t the Coroner or Medical Examiner have to Perform an Autopsy?
Not necessarily. Coroners/Medical Examiners are employed by the government. In most states, state laws and regulations specify when the Coroner or Medical Examiner’s officer must perform an autopsy and, generally, Coroners and Medical Examiners do not have the authority to perform an autopsy unless provided for specifically by state law. Usually, those laws restrict the Coroner’s or Medical Examiner’s office to performing autopsies only when a person dies in a suspicious or unusual manner—that is, a manner that indicates that a crime may have occurred. Therefore, the Coroner or Medical Examiner will generally decline to do an autopsy if it appears that no crime was involved with the death.
Just because a crime was not committed, however, does not necessarily mean that someone died of “natural causes.” Sometimes death can be caused by the mistakes of medical professionals or exposure to toxic substances. So what can you do if you suspect that someone caused your loved one’s death and the Coroner or Medical Examiner has refused to perform an autopsy?
Requesting a Private Autopsy
Some hospitals, especially teaching hospitals, provide autopsy services. Therefore, if you are interested in an autopsy and the Coroner has declined to provide one, the best place to start is to call your local teaching university’s hospital to see if they offer the service or can refer you to someone who can. The person who performs the autopsy at these hospital is a doctor specialized in pathology (usually clinical or forensic pathology). Therefore, when you call, it may help to ask for the pathology department. You can also try locating private autopsy services by searching your internet browser.
Keep in mind that, although some teaching hospitals may perform autopsies free of charge, the majority of hospitals do charge. If the expense of an autopsy is a concern, be sure to ask for the cost before scheduling.
When to Request an Autopsy
If you suspect that your loved one’s death was the product of someone else’s negligence and you have decided that you want to have an autopsy performed, request one as soon as possible. The passage of time can effect autopsy results. Additionally, most pathologists prefer conducting the autopsy prior to embalming. Thus the sooner the autopsy is requested, the better.
What to Expect if an Autopsy is Performed
Usually the transportation of your loved one’s body will be arranged by the place performing the autopsy. The autopsy itself usually lasts between 2 to 4 hours. Therefore, an autopsy can generally be performed without delaying funeral service plans.
An autopsy is a medical examination of a deceased person; however, that examination also includes an examination of the deceased person’s internal organs as well as laboratory testing of body fluids and tissues. Accordingly, the deceased’s body is operated on during an autopsy. Usually one can still have an open-casket funeral after an autopsy; however, this largely depends on the circumstances surrounding the death.
Although the autopsy itself usually takes only a few hours, it may take a few weeks for the final autopsy report to become available. This is because it can take some time for the laboratory tests to be returned. The final autopsy report will include a detailed description of the pathologist’s examination and his or her findings, including the probable cause or mechanism of death.
What to do if You Suspect Medical Malpractice Caused Your Loved One’s Death
If you suspect that your loved one died as a result of medical malpractice, contact one of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Burg Simpson’s Cincinnati office today. Our award-winning, compassionate attorneys would be happy to discuss your potential claim. Call 1-800-713-9340 or fill out our contact form for a FREE no-obligation consultation today.