Autopsy Report

What Is an Autopsy?

An autopsy is the examination and dissection of a body to determine the cause of death. An autopsy may be mandatory, when required by law, or discretionary, when made at the request of surviving family members.

Mandatory autopsies

State laws generally require an autopsy if a person:

  • Died under suspicious circumstances.
  • Was unexpectedly found dead.
  • Died without having recently seen a physician who can attest to a cause of natural death.
  • Is suspected of having had a disease that may threaten the public health.

The attending physician, coroner, or medical examiner will initiate the process and complete the required paperwork.

Discretionary autopsies

Family members or someone who is legally responsible for the deceased, such as a guardian or conservator, may also request a full autopsy or one limited to some body parts. Either type of autopsy is usually performed at a local hospital. There is sometimes a charge for a discretionary autopsy, generally ranging from $4,000 to $5,000, which is not covered by insurance. Survivors might request an autopsy if a death was:

  • Unexpected.
  • Due to an undiagnosed medical problem.
  • Likely due to a genetic disease or problem.
  • The basis for a possible lawsuit, such as medical malpractice.

Survivors who wish to request an autopsy should contact a licensed doctor for help. They may need to hire an independent pathologist for the procedure if the local hospital is unwilling or unable to perform it.

How to get an autopsy report

Those interested in receiving a copy of the report must notify the coroner or medical examiner who conducted the autopsy -- and generally pay about $20. It usually takes several weeks to issue the written autopsy report, which gives the cause and manner of death.


over 5 years ago, said...

My husband was killed in a trucking accident in 1997 on a California highway. His injuries were obvious, he was nearly cut in half and suffered seven fatal injuries. A coroner contacted a friend since Ii did not have a telephone to notify me that an autopsy would take place. I was unaware of this until after it was completed. I was extremely upset and when I spoke with the coroner I was told sometimes an autopsy is conducted due to demand of public interest or medical education.. This was in Riverside, Ca. I believe it was done out of curiousity and nothing more.