How Autopsy Works

A pathologist, a medical specialist, conducts autopsy procedures. Before the procedure can begin, investigators need to first supply pathologists with any relevant facts about the subject, including the cause and circumstances of death, medical records, and any information acquired from the deceased's family members and close friends.

An autopsy begins with an external examination. Pathologists will inspect the body's characteristics like sex, age, hair color, eye color, nails, and outside injuries. They will also look into extraneous factors, including clothes, gunpowder residue, and tattoos. The process may include the use of X-ray light to identify bone anomalies and ultraviolet light to disclose residues. An external examination can help establish a better understanding of the deceased's identity and cause of death, especially if minimal information comes from the investigation.

The next step is the internal examination. Pathologists will cut and remove the body parts protecting the chest, abdomen, pelvis, and brain if needed. Pathologists normally undertake the initial organ examination in place—that is, without removing the organs from the body except for the intestines. Once the first examination is complete, pathologists will then remove the organs for further examination. Tissue samples of the organs are often stored in formalin. Once the pathologist finishes the whole process, they return the organs to the body (assuming the corpse is buried rather than cremated), stitch the body back up, wash it, and then send it to the funeral director.

Example of Autopsy

A husband and wife are caught in a fatal auto accident resulting in both of their deaths. An autopsy must be performed per the rule stated by the National Association of Medical Examiners' Forensic Autopsy Performance Standards to document injuries and determine the cause of death. Keep in mind that an autopsy is unnecessary if the death results from known medical conditions/diseases (i.e., natural causes), there is a sufficient medical history, and there are no indicators of foul play.

We will call the husband's body Body A and the wife's body Body B to distinguish between the two. For external examination, there is essentially no difference in how the pathologist handles both bodies. Internal examination, on the other hand, is treated differently depending on the deceased's sex. First, pathologists dissect the chest and abdomen of the body by creating a Y-shaped incision. The two arms of the Y run from each shoulder joint and meet at mid-chest. The stem of the Y runs down to the pubic region.

There's a slight modification to the Y-shaped incision for female bodies. Instead of cutting up over the breasts, the Y's two arms are curved around under them. This gives the two arms of the Y a more elliptical shape, while the Y's arms on men's bodies travel straight from the joints of each shoulder to the midsection.

Significance of Autopsy

A pathologist may execute an autopsy for a variety of reasons. The most prevalent reason is to solve violent or suspicious deaths, as shown in news stories or your favorite crime movies or TV shows. However, autopsies may also be conducted for scientific and educational purposes, emphasizing diagnosing diseases.