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The Autopsy

The Autopsy

Michael Largo (Author) gives expert video advice on: What is an 'autopsy'?; What is a 'narrative autopsy'?; What value does an autopsy serve for my deceased family member? and more...

What is an 'autopsy'?

An autopsy is a surgery performed on a dead body. It's usually performed by medical doctors that are called pathologists. They're trained in the examination of dead bodies exclusively. They have to do 40 cadaver autopsies before they're certified. But an autopsy reveals the hidden causes of death that aren't available to be viewed while the person is alive. Now the typical autopsy will first examine the external condition of the body. It will look for every small scar, it will examine the teeth, it will measure the length of the penis, the width of the vagina, and the wear and tear of the anus, and will subject the body to scrutiny that would probably kill you of embarrassment while you were alive, but it doesn't affect you since getting an autopsy.

What is a 'narrative autopsy'?

Well, there are two types of autopsies and there has been a debate among pathologists. There is a coded language that describes over 3,000 different causes of death that we currently have in our language, and a lot of these are impossible to read. So a narrative autopsy has to be written in a layperson's language, something that anyone can understand, especially if the autopsy will later be revealed for a criminal investigation. It uses everyday language to describe the color of the skin, the texture of the hair, and other small details that you would need a codebook in order to understand what they are trying to describe.

What value does an autopsy serve for my deceased family member?

Now with forensic sciences, the dead body gets to sing a symphony of information. It reveals facts that we could have never understood before through different lab tests, toxicology reports and other instruments that are used to weigh organs and dissect them. An autopsy reveals small factors of the health of the person and often reveals secrets that even the person may have not known the things that actually had killed them.

What is the process of an autopsy?

An autopsy is a surgery, so what happens first is a Y-shaped incision is made from under the arm pits, and it meets the chest bone. That line is then extended all the way to the pubic area and the skin is folded back and the organs are examined with a view that has never before been seen in life. There's no bleeding. You would expect there to be a lot of blood, but there's no blood pressure, untypical of a person during a regular surgery, it seems very dry. Then, at that point, some organs are removed, they're weighed and examined, maybe some pieces are removed for slide samples. Then if the organs aren't needed to be preserved, they're usually just dumped into a bio-hazard bag and discarded.

What is a 'partial autopsy'?

A partial autopsy occurs when a full examination of the body is not required. Sometimes for forensic procedures, they might only need to examine the liver or maybe where the gunshot wound entered the body. And they don't need to be required to, say, pull out the person's brain or remove eyeballs. They just might need to look at a kidney or another organ that will give them a clue to answer the questions either in a forensic investigation or in a malpractice lawsuit.

What is an 'organ or tissue donation'?

When a person dies, you can decide to donate part of the body to be used in transplant or for study for research of the thing that actually killed the person. At this point, for the partial donation the organ is removed for just that, and the rest of the body is given back to the funeral director. There are 2.3 million deaths per year, and people believe that death should count for something, so body parts are recycled and given to someone who may be able to use them.

What is an 'anatomical donation'?

That is specifically used for medical research, usually genes, samples of genes or if a person had died from, say Alzheimer's or a particular type of disease then the researcher and the pathologist will look for only a very specific sample of the body that will be donated to usually medical institutions or other learning facilities in which they can try to gather more data and see if they can come up with a medication or a cure that may help those that died from that.

Does an autopsy disfigure the body?

Normally it doesn't depending on the extent of it. Even if all the organs are removed, it doesn't affect viewing of the body or normal embalming procedures. The body is sewn back together with what's called a typical baseball stitch, nothing fancy, the kind of thing you would see on a hard ball. And even if the brain has to be removed, even if the person is bald, the small hole from which the brain was removed will not be noticed when the head is resting on the pillow.

How long do the results of an autopsy take?

The typical autopsy will take at least a month for the results to be returned. All the laboratory information has to be in and the report cannot be written until all of the medical tests are returned, even after the pathologist has examined and made his notes on the physical examination. If the case is very popular or has a lot of media attention like Anna Nicole Smith, it took six weeks before her autopsy report was returned and Terry Schiavo took almost two months before samples of her brain were released.

How much does an autopsy cost?

A typical autopsy if you request it from the hospital is a free service. Most hospitals discourage it. If you ask for an autopsy, sometimes they'll tell you the fee is anywhere from two to three thousand dollars. They, particularly, do not want all bodies to have, and they receive an autopsy. You can hire your private pathologist and they can perform the autopsy in your local funeral parlour. Autopsies, depending on the type of examination required, is kind of like an a la carte menu. You can go anywhere from one organ to be examined or the whole body and the prices range anywhere from $500 to $3500 for the full treatment.