For the episode, see Autopsy
An autopsy, also known as a postmortem examination or more rarely necropsy, is the thorough examination of a corpse's organs and tissues to determine the cause of death or any previously undiagnosed pathological conditions. The procedure is usually performed by a specially-trained doctor known as a pathologist.
Types of autopsy
A forensic autopsy is used to determine the cause of death. It may be used for both legal and medical reasons; in other words, it can be requested of the medical examiner's office or the family. In cases of overly traumatic, unusual, sudden or unexpected deaths in which an ulterior motive is suspected, the coroner or medical examiner has the prerogative to fulfill the police request for examination. In most cases, however, the autopsy is simply used to fill out the death certificate, which must be signed by a physician to document the cause of death.
In the United States, there are five categories in which deaths are placed after autopsy:
- natural: the cause of death is a naturally occurring disease
- accidental: the cause of death is an unintended external event
- homicide: the cause of death is murder by another human being
- suicide: the cause of death is the termination of one's own life
- undetermined: the cause of death is one not listed above, or the death occurred in absentia, or upon proclamation of legal death by the proper authorities; may also be categorised as simply 'other'
Clinical autopsies are postmortem medical examinations used to increase knowledge of a disease process or the human body itself. They may be done by medical students for learning purposes, by professional pathologists in a specialised field of study for improving treatment of certain diseases, et cetera.
The autopsy process
After receiving the permission of the family of the deceased or the medical examiner's office, there are two kinds of examination that can take place.
The body is received by the morgue and laid out for examination. Photographs are taken and many notes about the appearance of the deceased are taken by the pathologist. If it is a criminal investigation, there are many samples taken and the body is kept in the bag until all specimens are collected. After this, all clothing is removed and, if the body is still in a bag, the body is place directly onto the cart before being cleaned, weighed and measured.
Once these statistics have been recorded, the body is moved to the examination table where the pathologist prepares a description of the body, usually on a voice recorder. If the cause of death is readily apparent or not suspicious, this is the only examination required for a death certificate's cause of death to be confirmed by the medical examiner.
The internal examination is a very long and consuming process. The body is positioned correctly on the table before the pathologist uses his or her own preferred incision for accessing the viscera, the most revealing being the Y-shaped incision from behind the ears to the sternum then continuing on to the pubis. After the torso has been opened, the pathologist may then remove the organs either one-by-one or en masse, the latter almost always used in the case of infants.
Each viscus removed is weighed and examined, and the entire examination hopefully culminates into a determination of the cause of death.
Autopsies in House
Post mortems have been used many time in house. House conducted an autopsy on a cat when there was a chance it held a clue when diagnosing a patient's illness. Also House tends to go to the morgue a lot to avoid being found and often eats in there.