What Is A Post-Mortem Examination?

Find out what a post-mortem examination is and when it is needed

Last updated: 6 June 2017

Sometimes known as an autopsy, a post-mortem examination is conducted by a pathologist at the request of the coroner when a cause of death is unknown or thought to be unnatural.

Who requests a post-mortem examination?

A post-mortem exam is usually requested by the coroner investigating the death or a hospital doctor.

When a coroner has requested for a post-mortem to take place, you will not be asked to give consent, as the examination is a legal requirement to determine whether an inquest is needed. The coroner will, however, consult with the next of kin if any religious requirements need to be observed during the procedure.

If a hospital doctor has requested the examination, the next of kin will need to give consent for the post-mortem to take place. The purpose of a post-mortem requested by a doctor is usually to discover the cause of death or learn more about a disease, rather than to decide whether an inquest is needed.

What is involved in the post-mortem examination?

During the examination procedure, the person who has died will be examined and inspected by pathologists, doctors specialising in the body after death.

The pathologist may need to take tissue samples or remove organs during the post-mortem. Any organs removed will be returned to the body once the post-mortem examination is complete, although small samples may need to be kept if an inquest is necessary.

What happens after a post-mortem examination?

The pathologist will write a report of their findings once the post-mortem is complete. Release papers will be issued, allowing the funeral director of your choice to collect your loved one.

Should you wish, you will usually be able to view your loved one after a post-mortem.

If the coroner requested the examination, they will contact you to tell you what the cause of death was, or if an inquest is needed. You can also request a full copy of the coroner’s report, but you may have to pay a fee.

If a hospital doctor requested the post-mortem, you will need to request the results directly from the hospital. Again, you may be charged a fee for this. You may be able to arrange a meeting to discuss the results with the doctor or your GP. They will be able to further explain the findings of the examination.

Find out more about coroner’s inquests.