We’re a team of specialized doctors, technicians, and support staff. The work we do for you includes investigating, evaluating, and helping explain why and how someone died.
This page provides information about autopsies. It explains what an autopsy is, why it’s important, and what choices you have.
Many people find this a difficult time to be making decisions. If you have any questions, you should ask the hospital staff who discuss the autopsy with you. It often helps if you speak with your family, your doctor, someone who can give you cultural or religious support, or another person close to you.
- Caroline Dignan, M.D., Director of Autopsy, Assistant Professor
- Bruce Goldman, M.D., Director of Renal Pathology and Electron Microscopy, Professor
- Philip Katzman, M.D., Pediatric Pathologist, Associate Professor
- Leon Metlay, M.D., Pediatric Pathologist, Associate Professor
For questions, contact the Autopsy Office at (585) 275-3202.
For Families: Frequently Asked Questions
What is an autopsy?
An autopsy (also known as a postmortem or after-death examination) is a step-by-step examination of the outside of the body and of the internal organs by a specialized doctor called a pathologist. The autopsy is carried out in a respectful manner and with regard to the wishes of the next-of-kin.
An autopsy will provide detailed information about what caused the person’s death. Even if the cause of death seems clear, the person may have had medical problems that were not known during life. This information can be important for the other family members’ future health. Sometimes, it can help them come to terms with the death.
What kind of information can an autopsy provide?
By reviewing the medical history and records, we can provide our opinion about the immediate and underlying causes of death. An autopsy also can confirm a medical finding or reveal other causes of illness. Autopsies may also help detect some inherited diseases.
Who can give permission for a hospital autopsy?
Only the patient’s legal next-of-kin(s) may consent to a hospital autopsy. The order of priority for giving consent is as follows:
- Domestic partner
- Child over the age of 18
- Grandchild over the age of 18
- Sibling over the age of 18
- Other relative over the age of 18 (e.g., grandparent, niece, nephew)
Note: Power of Attorney and Health Care Agent status ceases at death.
When is an autopsy conducted?
Autopsies are typically performed within 24 to 48 hours of death. They are scheduled after a completed “Authorization for Autopsy Report of Death” form is received.
How long does an autopsy typically take?
The initial examination takes between two and four hours and depends on the type of disease, whether there are any limitations to the autopsy, and the goal of the autopsy.
Following the initial examination, additional studies are performed. They may include examination of small tissue samples using a microscope, tests to identify possible infections, and other special studies.
How long does it take to get the results of an autopsy?
Preliminary autopsy reports are usually available to the attending doctor (the doctor who was in charge of the patient’s care) within two business days.
Final autopsy reports are typically completed within 60 business days. Complex cases may take longer to complete.
What does an autopsy cost?
Autopsies are provided at no cost to next of kin if the person who died was a patient of Strong Memorial Hospital (SMH) and affiliated facilities (for example, Highland Hospital). The cost of a private autopsy for non-SMH or non-affiliated patients is handled on a case-by-case basis.
Who receives the autopsy reports?
For patients of SMH and affiliated facilities:
- All autopsy reports are sent to the doctor in charge of the patient’s care and any other doctors designated by the legal next of kin.
- Next of kin can request a paper copy of the autopsy report by calling Health Information Management (HIM) at (585) 275-2605. HIM will send you the paper form to fill out for the written request. As next of kin you also can receive a copy of the autopsy report from a doctor who is receiving a copy. You would need to make an appointment with the doctor to review the information.
For private autopsy requests:
- A preliminary report with the initial autopsy findings is issued to the family within two business days of the autopsy. After completion of all microscopic and special studies, a final report will be sent to the family, typically, within 45-60 business days.
Will anyone explain the findings of my loved one’s autopsy to our family?
Yes. The next of kin can designate a physician, such as a family physician, to receive the autopsy report and then meet with you to go over the report.
Will an autopsy interfere with the viewing of the body?
You can hold a normal viewing after an autopsy. The incisions made for the procedure are covered by regular clothing and the position of the body.
What, if any, specimens will you keep after the autopsy?
As part of the autopsy consent and process, we may remove, examine, retain, and/or dispose of any organs, tissues, or parts of organs and tissues for diagnostic, scientific, or educational purposes.
This is especially important in cases where further examination is necessary to more accurately establish or add to a diagnosis (medical answer). However, when giving consent, the next of kin may specify limitations to the autopsy, such as, “No examination of the brain.”
What about religious and cultural concerns of the family?
We have performed autopsies on patients from a wide range of cultural and religious backgrounds. If you are aware of any cultural or religious practices/beliefs that should be respected during the autopsy process, it is important that you tell us.
If you have questions regarding specific practices, you can talk with the Director of Autopsy Pathology, the funeral director, and/or your religious representative at any time.
Will scheduling an autopsy interfere with a decedent's funeral or memorial services?
In general, the timing of an autopsy will not interfere with scheduled funeral or memorial services. Any questions should be discussed with your funeral director.
Download our Explaining Autopsy brochure