Glenoaks Pathology Medical Group Glenoaks Pathology Medical Group  
For Families
For Attorneys
For Mortuaries
For Insurance
For Media


When and Why Should an Autopsy be Requested?

It is a widely held view that autopsies should be performed on the occasion of every death. However, because doing so is not always practical, or even possible, there are certain instances attendant to a death in which an autopsy is particularly indicated:

  • Any death that is apparently natural but also unexplained or unexpected and not subject to a forensic medical jurisdiction.
  • The death of a patient who participated in any clinical trials.
  • The unexplained or unexpected death occurring during or following any medical, surgical or dental diagnostic procedures or therapies.
  • A natural death that falls under a forensic medical jurisdiction, but is waived, such as a death where there is evidence the patient sustained an injury during hospitalization; a hospital death where the patient died within 24 hours of admission or a person pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital.
  • Any case where an autopsy can serve to help a family or other interested parties come to a better understanding about the death, help allay fears and doubt and help facilitate closure.
  • Any case where an autopsy can serve to help the attending physician understand the causes of unknown and/or unanticipated complications.
  • Any case where the cause of death or a major diagnosis is not known.
  • Any death as a result of high-risk infectious and contagious diseases.
  • Any obstetric death.
  • Any perinatal and pediatric death.
  • Any death in which there is a belief that an autopsy might reveal a known or suspected illness that may have a bearing on the well being of survivors or transplanted organ recipients.
  • Any death in which environmental or occupational hazards were present or suspected.
  • Any death where there is a need to document inherited diseases such as colon cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer Disease, etc.
  • Any death where the family is considering litigation.

When an Autopsy is Required?

About 20 percent of the deaths in the United States are subject to investigation by coroners or medical examiners. While autopsies are commonly performed in the course of such investigations, they are not always required. Each case is evaluated to determine a cause and manner of death. It may be decided no autopsy is needed in cases where there is sufficient evidence to determine cause and manner of death. If such a determination cannot be made, the law may require an autopsy to establish the facts. The permission of the family is not needed. Coroner ordered autopsies are conducted at taxpayer expense. If no autopsy is ordered, families have the right to have one conducted at their own expense.

Guidelines for death investigations, to include autopsy, vary from state to state, but generally state statutes require death investigation and autopsy for each of the following:

  • Any death due to homicide, suicide or accidents, such as vehicle crashes, falls, drowning, burns or the ingestion of toxic compounds.
  • Death under unusual circumstances with suspicion of foul play.
  • Any workplace death.
  • Any death caused by an agent or a disease that poses a public health threat.
  • A sudden or suspicious, unexplained or unexpected death.
  • A SIDS related death.
  • Any death of a person in custody, incarceration or confinement.
  • Any death of a person institutionalized for reasons other than organic illness or disease.
  • The death of persons to be cremated.
  • Any hospital death where patient was admitted unconscious or who died within 24 hours of admission.
  • Any infant or fetal death related to anesthesia, medical procedures, maternal drug abuse, unlawful abortion or stillbirth occurring outside a hospital.
  • Any death related to a medical procedure.
  • Any death related to anesthesia, postanesthesia or immediate postoperative period.
  • Death related to delayed effect of injury such as post-traumatic seizure, pulmonary embolism after hip fracture, etc.

The degree of thoroughness of death investigations varies from case to case. Due to time and budget constraints, the extent of the coroner or medical examiner's investigation may be limited, and autopsies are not always done on every case. Sometimes an external examination of the body or a simple review of medical records makes up the entirety of a postmortem examination.

When an Independent Resource is the Answer?

It sometimes happens that the questions attendant in some deaths endure beyond the determinations and explanations of investigators. Even a coroner or medical examiner ordered autopsy may not always unveil the mystery lingering on to tax the time, energy and emotions of a surviving family. GPMG understands these factors and has built its reputation and practice serving the needs of survivors by seeking out the answers. We go beyond what is required to satisfy the Health Department and legally satisfy a death investigation. We provide fully independent, complete and conclusive findings. If a family wishes to appoint an independent pathologist to witness a coroner or medical examiner ordered autopsy, or wishes to have a complete autopsy and lab work conducted where none have been ordered, GPMG can fill that need. Every available tool and technology is available to strip off the final questions and uncertainties and help bring about closure.

To find out more about whether or not the appointment of an independent pathologist is right for your particular circumstances, contact GPMG by the contact information below.

Glenoaks Pathology Medical Group, Inc
David M. Posey, MD

2222 Foothill Blvd. Suite E565
La Cañada, CA 91011

Tel: (800) 620-4644 • (818) 249-1911
Fax: (818) 249-1941

24 hour pager-we always respond
(888) 434-1952


© 2004 Glenoaks Pathology Medical Group, All Rights Reserved.