What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is an invasive examination of a deceased individual for the purpose of determining the cause and manner of death. A complete autopsy entails examination of the external body surface, an internal examination of the chest and abdominal cavities, and cranium (head). A non-forensic autopsy examination can also be limited to certain areas of interest specified by the family.
Who is most qualified to perform an autopsy?
Board certified pathologist are the most fully qualified experts for providing autopsy services. They are physicians who perform autopsies routinely and are specially trained to recognize the anatomic changes brought about by disease.
Are Virginia Pathology and Autopsy Services' pathologists board certified?
Yes. Virginia Pathology and Autopsy Services pathologists are board certified by the American Board of Pathology in anatomic and/or clinical pathology.
Can anyone request an autopsy?
Any family member or close friend of the deceased can ask for an autopsy as long as they are properly authorized.
Who can authorize an autopsy?
Only the legal next of kin or individual (family member or non-family member) with durable power of attorney can authorize an autopsy.
Is the pathologist providing 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.
When does the local jurisdiction order an autopsy?
The Coroner or Medical Examiner deals with cases of sudden, unexpected, violent or traumatic death. The Coroner or Medical Examiner also makes the decision on what type of cases involving a natural death may be placed under their jurisdiction for further investigation. If the deceased has a significant well documented medical history, the Coroner or Medical Examiner will usually release the case and not perform an autopsy. Each jurisdiction has its own guidelines and these guidelines may vary significantly.
Where are the private autopsies performed?
The autopsies are performed at a morgue in Culpeper, VA. In addition, we can also perform the autopsy at the funeral home. If the funeral home permits, we can travel to their facility and perform the autopsy on site. Please ask the funeral home if they allow for the autopsy to be performed in their facilities.
Who performs the autopsy?
A Board Certified Pathologist and Certified (ASCP) Pathology Assitant conducts and administers the autopsy.
When should an autopsy be done?
Coroner and Medical Examiner guidelines must be followed in each jurisdiction. However, even if not called for by law, an autopsy is always recommended. Any and all questions related to the death can be investigated. Even where there are no questions, autopsies often reveal useful information to help the family better deal with their loss. An autopsy also forestalls questions that may arise after burial or cremation, and the autopsy often discloses vital information, such as the status of inheritable diseases that will assist surviving family members with their health care. We suggest you consult with a Virginia Pathology and Autopsy Services' representative who can help you decide.
Will an autopsy affect funeral arrangements?
No, there is no change in the appearance of the body following the autopsy. Working with your funeral director, we will attempt to schedule the autopsy so as not to affect funeral arrangements.
Will the casket have to be closed because of an autopsy?
No, we take every measure to care for and respect the body so as not to create problems for embalming and viewing by paying meticulous attention to blood vessel integrity and preservation.
When should an autopsy be performed?
The autopsy should be performed as soon as possible after death. When the deceased is properly cooled, decomposition is slowed and a brief delay of several days usually will not interfere with the autopsy results.
Can an autopsy be performed if the body has been embalmed?
Yes. For best outcome, an autopsy should be performed on an unembalmed body. However, if there will be a long delay (beyond one week) between death and the autopsy, embalming is recommended because embalming preserves the body tissues. But please note that embalming does interfere with most of the toxicology studies.
How soon after an autopsy is the report ready?
The final report including all histology and toxicology tests interpreted by the pathologist will be completed and mailed in approximately 8-10 weeks, however there are times that cases can take longer. This is a general time frame as each case is different. When evaluating cases, we must take into consideration additional tests, medical record review, and overall analysis which could delay the report. We try our best to have the final report out in approximately 8-10 weeks, but we want to ensure a complete and accurate report, thus simply forcing the report out by a general time frame would not be considered good standard pathology practice.
For any other questions you may have, please contact our office.