A post mortem examination is a detailed examination of the body after death. It is carried out in purpose built premises. These are usually part of a large hospital mortuary or public mortuaries provided by the local authority in some areas of the country.
It is a very helpful procedure and sometimes essential to be able to determine why someone has died. In other cases it can be extremely helpful to further medical knowledge of diseases processes and to assist in research.
The examination involves both a careful examination of the body externally and then a detailed examination of the internal organs. This may require the retention of samples of tissue and body fluids. This allows microscopic examination of individual cells. Occasionally it may be necessary to retain a whole organ for a period of time, but you will be kept informed about the reason for this and the time period so you can make informed and appropriate choices about the timing of the funeral.
A post mortem examination (also called an autopsy or a necropsy) is carried out by a pathologist, who is a doctor with specialist training and expertise in diagnosing disease through looking at tissues and cells. They are assisted by anatomical pathology technologists.
A post mortem examination does not usually prevent families spending time with the deceased either at the hospital, at the funeral director's premises or even at home as great care is taken of the external appearance at the end the examination.
A post mortem may be carried out on the orders of the coroner or with the consent of next of kin. More information about the different types of post mortem and the results are explained on the pages below.