WHEN AND WHY ARE AUTOPSIES NEEDED?
Contrary to popular belief, autopsies are not primarily used for murder investigations. There are in fact two main reasons for an autopsy to be called; 1) The death is considered sudden or there is some uncertainty about the cause or 2) It is for scientific purposes.
The first of these reasons encompasses most autopsies and therefore involves countless possibilities in terms of the specifics of why an autopsy is called. As a general rule an autopsy will always be performed if the person committed suicide, died in police custody, died of an undetermined cause or who’s death has been deemed ‘suspicious’. In terms of cases with an undetermined cause of death a more specific definition would likely be someone who was seemingly quite healthy dying unexpectedly. This will usually mean the autopsy will look for the cause to simply resolve any uncertainty as unexplained deaths can often be worrying due to the sheer number of possible causes. If a patient dies in hospital the hospital itself will generally want to perform an autopsy to see what has gone wrong unless the cause is already obvious. Hospitals will also do post-mortem operations to remove organs from organ donors, but these are not considered autopsies as they aren’t done to learn about the deceased or their death.
The second reason for an autopsy to be performed is much simpler and mainly only involves two possibilities. The first kind of autopsy is performed if the deceased donated their body to science and it is decided they will be used for medical training. For those training to practice medicine it’s understandable that it is hard to get a lot of practice so all doctors-to-be must practice their skills and knowledge of anatomy on cadavers. The other way autopsies are performed for science is if the deceased died of or had at the time of their death a life-threatening disease. In these cases, the autopsy is done to learn more about the disease itself and the effect it has on the human body. Also, if the deceased was being treated for this illness, the autopsy can reveal details of the effectiveness of some treatments and how they affected the disease. However, most of the time, these autopsies require special permissions from the family and sometimes the deceased themselves (prior to death).