Part 3: What You Need to Know About Autopsies (U.S.)

Your loved one dies.

You suspect "wrongful death" - such as a hospital or medical facility made big mistakes, or criminal negligence may be involved. In many jurisdictions, Coroners are elected officials and won't authorize an 'unpopular' autopsy unless it is a clear case of criminal negligence.

What do you do?

You may not even be 'sure' what happened - you just want to find out what happened.

1. You need a neutral third-party: If a hospital offers to do an autopsy - and you are trying to prove that the mistake happened there, you need a third-party independent autopsy to be done. You need the autopsy doctor to not have political or business (or even a golf-playing relationship) with anyone involved in your loved one's case.

Where: State universities are your best likely possibility for a neutral third party autopsy.

Cost: About $3500 - 5000 - PAID UP FRONT! This is on top of the fees to transport the body to their location - regular ambulances can't do it, usually. It has to be done by a licensed transport permitted to take deceased persons.

2. You have to keep a "clean sterile field". Years ago, my mother's autopsy was done at hospital. Naively I thought that would be fine. Then the autopsy doctor called and told me that she thought she had found 'poisoning in her heart sac'. I asked about "proof". She told me it wouldn't hold up in court as evidence because she didn't know in advance it would be a criminal investigation - if she had, it would have been done by the Coroner's office and a sterile field would have been kept. As it was, my mother's autopsy, was useless except as a curiosity at best.  Her estate didn't have a bill - but I /we also didn't  have results we could use. No second autopsy could be done because the autopsy results came three weeks later after her death. I had been told it would take three weeks for results and my father had ordered her body to be cremated.

Learn -p lease - from my really bad mistake - get a clean sterile field autopsy done if you have any questions about what may have caused the death of your loved one - if you suspect foul play.

3. Can you still donate their body to science - after? No. This was a big surprise to me. If a body has been explored for an autopsy, the medical / mortuary schools will NOT take a body that has been autopsied - or at least not in three mid-west states I checked. Why this is important: If you just spent up to $5000 US for the autopsy, now you have funeral costs as well - unless your person had funeral insurance. Whereas, if you just surrender their body for body donation, you never will learn the autopsy results, but you will likely have zero costs. Body donation programs generally will cremate their body on the other side of use and then either give the ashes back to family several years later, or bury in a commons plot with other body donors, and then put up a plaque with the person's name on it, for example. (If the person was a Veteran, the VA in the U.S. will also offer a little emblem for the plaque).

4. Time for autopsy:  You don't have time to 'go raise the money to do an autopsy'. You either have the money, or you don't. Fees are all paid up front. You can pay with a credit card, but you must pay. There's no financing program. If the case is criminal, your county, township, or state or province likely will pay for the autopsy.

Autopsies must be done as soon as possible following death for the best outcome of results.

5. Turn-around time: For reports, figure up to 3-6 weeks.  Keep this in mind that if you are having an autopsy done for your loved one, you may want to hold off on burial or cremation until the results are in. If it is criminal, the coroner's office may be willing to keep their body. If it is a suspected wrongful death, then maybe the funeral home can keep their body. Maybe. You have to check.

6. What about weekends and holidays? Body donation programs many times can't easily take a body on a weekend. Autopsy services  - for independent (you pay for) services may not be able to take a body on a weekend or holiday. You may find the hospital doesn't want to cooperate to hold their body in cold storage til like Monday.

As a note: bodies that are embalmed can't go to body donation. These programs have a different process they use.

7. Body transport:  Even if you only want to have your loved one's body taken three miles down the street, the transport bill may be $250 US. Be ready for that. Most want payment up might get lucky and be able to negotiate being billed and payment to follow from estate. Maybe.

This is one reason for the Planning and Training Program. If you know up front what costs are involved and have access to money you will need, it gives you many more options for decision-making.

8. Note about Body Donations: If you or your loved one wants to do this, bodies are needed. However, you do need to make arrangements well in advance. In my father's case, he made this contract agreement in about 1991. Once your loved one makes a contract such as this, the decision is "made" and should be honored. There may be liability against the Executor or others if known final wishes are not carried out.






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Caesi Bevis, Author / Speaker Bio

Bevis Consulting

Bevis Consulting

Principal of Bevis Consulting. I am a Futurist, Research Writer, Public Speaker, Voice Over Professional, Consultant, and Expert Witness with over 20+ years background in competitive intelligence, market research, and 13+ years in legislation research and consulting in both the U.S. and Canada. My marketing expertise in recent years includes social network and Internet marketing. I am the former President of the Canadian Business Intelligence Association. My PhD coursework is in Human Behavior Leadership, with an MBA with an International Finance focus, BBA with core courses in Marketing and AA in Advertising Design.

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