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Utah Office of the Medical Examiner

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Should I Know About an Autopsy?

What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a systematic examination of a body after death conducted by a forensic pathologist.  The pathologist looks for disease or injury that may have caused or contributed to the death. In order to do this, incisions are carefully made on the body to explore the head, neck, chest and abdomen.  Removed organs are examined individually. Small samples of each organ are routinely retained in case additional testing is necessary. The remaining organs are returned with the body for burial or cremation. During the procedure, samples of body fluids and organs are obtained for toxicology or other analysis. Documentation of findings during the exam are done by handwritten notes, diagrams and photography.

When is an autopsy necessary?

Not everyone that is brought to the OME requires a full autopsy. The extent of the examination is determined by the assigned forensic pathologist. When the documentation of disease or trauma is critical to the final determination of death an autopsy is performed. An autopsy may also be necessary in the collection of evidence within the body or to document and/or retrieve anatomic or prosthetic features that will assist in the identification of an individual.

How long does an autopsy take?

In an uncomplicated autopsy the examination can be performed in a little over an hour. The documentation of injuries as well as the collection of evidence may prolong the length of the autopsy. All autopsies are performed at the Medical Examiner’s Office in Salt Lake City.

How much does an autopsy cost?

The services provided by the OME are free to the family.  Our office is under the direction of the Utah Department of Health and as such we are taxpayer funded.  There should be no costs incurred by a family for having the OME take jurisdiction.  Transportation costs are reimbursed to funeral homes on a per loaded mile basis or at a contracted service fee to bring or pick up a loved one.

Will an autopsy prevent an open casket viewing?

No. The incisions used for an autopsy are made in locations of the body that can be readily hidden from view. Every effort is made by the autopsy staff to not disfigure the body.  Similar care is taken during organ and tissue recovery for donation.

What does the autopsy report include?

An autopsy report is the written documentation of the findings from the autopsy and final conclusions.  The report includes the final determination of cause and manner of death, a listing of key findings (disease processes, traumatic injuries, and additional investigative or anatomic findings) and toxicology results.  The main text of the report includes detailed descriptions of the external physical findings, medical intervention, identifying features, trauma (if present), and a specific description of each internal organ examined.

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