FAQs About Private Autopsy

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Autopsy?

An autopsy (also known as a post-mortem examination or necropsy) is an invasive examination of a deceased, performed by pathologists, medical doctors specialty trained in the diagnosing diseases by the examination of body fluids and tissues and determining the cause and manner of death.

Surgical techniques, microscopy, laboratory analysis and medical records are used in this evaluation. The College of American Pathologists (CAP) recommends that an autopsy be performed at every death, and experts say that competent autopsies are beneficial in a wide range of circumstances.

The primary purpose of an autopsy is to put to rest any questions the family may have regarding the cause of death, nature of an illness and reassurance that the appropriate health care had been provided. In addition, health insurance claims and other death benefits may be expedited by the autopsy results.

Forensic autopsies are autopsies with legal implications and are performed to determine if death was an accident, homicide, suicide, or a natural event.

The word autopsy is derived from the Greek word "autopsia": "to see with one's own eyes."

The procedure takes about two to four hours to perform. This examination may be comprehensive or limited to a particular organ system. For example, in the case of a suspected heart attack, some physicians and families request that the autopsy be limited to examination of the chest. However, limiting the scope of the autopsy may sometimes reduce its value.

The body is opened in a manner that does not interfere with an open casket service, and is treated with dignity, respect, and according to the wishes of the family.

Small specimens of each organ and body fluids are taken for microscopic examination to look for disease such as malignancy or infection. Many tests can be performed long after the autopsy and specimen procurement, e.g. toxicology (checking for drugs, chemicals, or toxic substances), genetics, etc.

Can a Cranial Autopsy be performed?

The term "cranial autopsy" refers to the autopsy of the cranial cavity for the purpose of making a neurological diagnosis, which requires the brain procurement and examination by a forensic neuropathologist.

Our pathologists will be able to define and classify the neurological condition, e.g. not only confirm that the deceased had Alzheimer’s or Dementia, but also determine the type and stage.

Can a Second Autopsy be performed?

If you suspect foul play in the first autopsy, do not trust the first medical examiner, hospital pathologist or would like a second opinion for quality assurance, you can a second autopsy performed shortly after the first autopsy.

The second autopsy can look at parts of the body that were not examined in the first, and the incorporation of its results, with those of the first autopsy and other available medical and investigative records, can depict a far more thorough and comprehensive picture of the cause and manner of death.

Why would I want to have an autopsy performed on a family member?

In a word, QUESTIONS. Most people requesting an autopsy after a family member's death have unanswered questions regarding the person's health prior to death and what eventually caused the death to occur. Others have lingering questions about the care and treatment the family member had received prior to death. Sometimes there are legal questions regarding the mechanics of the death and the influence it has on subsequent liability, insurance settlements or inheritance.

Beware of illegal autopsies.
Is an autopsy really necessary?

Hasn't modern technology made the autopsy outdated or obsolete? With modern imaging studies and laboratory tests, one would think that the autopsy is unlikely to reveal any conditions that were not detected clinically.

The accuracy of the clinical diagnosis has been the subject of numerous research studies. These studies have consistently shown that in 20% to 40% of autopsied patients, there were important, treatable conditions detected at autopsy that had not been diagnosed clinically, i.e. based on imaging studies and laboratory tests. This consistent and significant discrepancy between clinical and pathologic diagnoses is probably the most compelling argument for continued efforts to revive the autopsy as the "gold standard" in evaluating the quality of medical care.

Some information can only be acquired during an autopsy.

In most cases, an autopsy is the best thing you can do after a loved one dies.

Why do you need to examine the brain post-mortem?

In most published studies (confirmed by our own experience), the accuracy of clinical diagnosis of the different diseases that cause dementia is 70–80%. Establishing a precise diagnosis by post-mortem neuropathological examination is important for several reasons:

  • With rare exceptions, brain tissue from patients with dementia cannot be obtained for diagnosis except post mortem.
  • The post-mortem examination yields accurate epidemiological data and is an important means of auditing the quality of clinical care.
  • Today, a postmortem autopsy remains the only verifiable way to determine someone had Alzheimer’s or any other specific form of Dementia.
  • Classification and determination of the severity of dementia or other mental disease provides solid evidence in legal disputes.
  • Many neurodegenerative diseases are inherited or are associated with specific genetic risk factors. Accurate diagnosis is important for assessing the risk to other members of the family.
  • Prion disease can mimic other dementias but, unlike dementias, may have public health implications, particularly if the patient has had a surgical procedure or donated tissue that carries a risk of transmission of disease.
When is an Autopsy Recommended?

Conducting an autopsy is considered standard practice on the occasion of any death. However, it is not always practical, or even possible in every case to perform an autopsy. The following are specific circumstances in which an autopsy is more strongly indicated:

  • Any death, apparently natural, but also mysterious or unexpected and not otherwise subject to a forensic medical jurisdiction.
  • The death of any patient who took part in any type of clinical trial.
  • Any death of a person in custody, incarceration or confinement.
  • The unexplained or unexpected death, occurring or following any medical, surgical or dental diagnostic procedure or therapy.
  • Any death related to anesthesia, post anesthesia or immediate postoperative period.
  • A hospital death where the patient was admitted unconscious or died within 24 hours of admission, or a person is pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital.
  • Any case where autopsy results can help family or other interested parties come to an understanding about the death, allay fears and doubt and help facilitate closure.
  • Any case in which an autopsy can help the attending physician understand the causes of unknown and/or unanticipated complications.
  • Any death resulting from high-risk infectious and contagious diseases.
  • Any obstetric death.
  • Any perinatal and pediatric death.
  • Any death where an autopsy could reveal a known or suspected illness that may factor into the well being of survivors or transplanted organ recipients.
  • Any death where environmental or occupational hazards were present or suspected. Asbestos-mesothelioma or exposure to toxins are a common example.
  • Any death where the family is considering litigation, e.g. wrongful death or medical malpractice.
  • Any death when the family plans to cremate and has unanswered questions or discrepancies.
How soon should an autopsy be performed?

The autopsy should be conducted as soon as possible after the death, ideally within 24 hours. The longer the body remains in refrigeration the greater the chances of decomposition are. This can compromise the integrity of the tissue and cause a toxicological contamination.

Ideally the body should not be embalmed before the autopsy.

When the deceased is properly cooled, a delay of 5-7 days generally will not interfere with the autopsy results. The results of some specialized tests, such as toxicology, can be affected by any delay in the autopsy examination.

Who can request an autopsy?

An autopsy should be requested by the legal next-of-kin or legally designated responsible party, such as a spouse, children of legal age, guardian or court having care of minor child, parents, grandparents, power of attorney or a legal counsel at the family's request, or any person who assumes custody of and responsibility for the burial of the body.

The next-of-kin can define the scope of the autopsy (for example, evaluate the brain only, or exclude the brain from the examination; limit the procedure to examination of the abdomen only, etc.)

Note: limited or partial autopsies are not guaranteed to provide sufficient evidence of the cause of death, and are typically conducted for very specific purposes. General autopsies are recommended for the vast majority of cases.

Why can't Medical Examiner do the autopsy?

The Medical Examiner or Coroner has authority over cases of a sudden, unexpected, violent or traumatic death. The Medical Examiner may also take jurisdiction of some cases involving a natural death under certain circumstances. If the deceased has a significant, well-documented medical history, the Medical Examiner will usually release the case and not perform an autopsy.

Where is a private autopsy performed?

The autopsy can be performed in any space designated by the Funeral Director and/or hospital facility (preparation room, autopsy suite/morgue, funeral home). Most of autopsies are conducted in funeral homes.

Will the autopsy affect funeral arrangements?

Private autopsy will not delay a funeral or affect viewing of the body. Funeral directors and pathologists work together so that the final arrangements for the body can be made according to the family wishes.

Will the family be able to view the body after the autopsy (during funeral)?

You should not be concerned over disfigurement of the remains or delays in funeral arrangements. If you want to have a traditional funeral service with viewing of the deceased, the autopsy will not interfere with the appearance of the deceased.

The visual examination of the body and the removal of tissues and/or organs and fluids for microscopic examination can be completed in a few hours, and there are no visible external changes that would preclude an open-casket funeral service. The family's cultural and religious beliefs will be respected during the autopsy.

Should a private autopsy be done in a suspected Medical Malpractice case?

Medical malpractice arises when a healthcare professional violates the governing standards of healthcare while offering a diagnosis or treating a patient. A medical malpractice case is typically highlighted only when there is grave personal injury (or death) as a result of the wrongful treatment.

A medical malpractice case can be filed by a wronged patient against any licensed medical professional, including physicians, surgeons, counselors and psychologists in the following cases:

  • Misdiagnoses or wrong diagnosis
  • Failure to diagnose or provide treatment for an ailment or condition
  • Unreasonable delay in providing treatment for a diagnosed ailment or condition

A private autopsy is a must in all malpractice cases involving wrongful death.

How much does an Autopsy Cost?

The cost depends on:

  • The scope of the pathological examination: general, limited to an area, single organ, brain, etc.
  • The amount of medical records that will have to be reviewed.
  • The scope and complexity of testing involved. For example, toxicology can be very expensive.

Considering the level of expertise we offer, LabFlorida is a low cost provider of private autopsy services. More on Autopsy Fees and Costs

Is the pathologist conducting the autopsy responsible for Signing the Death Certificate?

No. The attending physician who provided medical services prior to the person's death is responsible for signing the death certificate. In the event the attending physician doesn't sign the death certificate, then the coroner or medical examiner takes jurisdiction. All arrangements can typically be made via your funeral director.

How long will it take to get the Autopsy Report?

Shortly after the autopsy procedure the pathologist assigned to the case may call the next-of-kin with a preliminary report and an indication of the cause of death. Final report may take from a couple of weeks to several months depending on the scope of testing involved and complexity of medical records. Oftentimes, toxicology legally has to be ordered via a Medical Examiner, which is sure to take at least two months.

Delays may also occur when families are unable to timely provide all medical records for complicated cases.

Legal cases may require more detailed reports, which will take longer. LabFlorida PAG business office will work with families and lawyers to assist in litigation, which is likely to also incur additional costs.

What is the Autopsy Report?

After all studies are completed, a detailed report is prepared that describes the autopsy procedure and microscopic findings, gives a list of medical diagnoses, and a summary of the case. The report emphasizes the relationship or correlation between clinical findings (the doctor's examination, laboratory tests, radiology findings, etc.) and pathologic findings (those made from the autopsy).

Once completed, LabFlorida Autopsy Report becomes a permanent part of the medical record and a legal document admissible in courts.

Why hire LabFlorida Private Autopsy Group to conduct the autopsy and pathology study?

We are an independent lab and pathology group that provides professional, medico-legal death investigation services in the state of Florida. We are working for you and together we are seeking the truth. Can you request the hospital or nursing home where your family member expired to conduct an investigation that may expose liability on that facility’s part? Our investigation is completely independent and unbiased.

When you select LabFlorida PAG, you hire a pathology team with years of experience as medical examiners and expert witnesses. All autopsies are conducted only by Florida licensed pathologists, not autopsy technicians.

For a usual and customary fee, we will arm your legal council with solid evidence and impressive testimony for your lawsuit. There will never be any doubt on the qualifications of our pathologists.

Finally, you will have all facts surrounding the end of life of someone you loved for the closure and peace of mind. About LabFlorida PAG