Jessamine County Coroner

Autopsy, Why?

Many people question why an autopsy has been ordered on their loved one.  For a lot of folks, the idea of an autopsy being performed on a beloved member of their family, especially children, is inconceivable.

Autopsies are performed for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is required by law in specific circumstances.

An autopsy is the examination of the human body to determine, when possible, the exact cause of death.  This can only be accomplished by dissection or opening of the body to reveal the tissue, organs and vascular system for examination.

The physician who performs an autopsy is a forensic pathologist.  With their skilled hands, they are able to determine if the tissue from the body is diseased, such as with cancer or heart disease; or if there is some extrinsic (outside the body) cause for the death.  This might include poisoning (accidental or intentional), suffocation or trauma.

Often the autopsy will provide insight into what can be done in the future to prevent many accidental deaths.  One example of this is through a “Child Fatality Review Board”.  This board reviews all childhood deaths, including their autopsies, to evaluate cause of death. This board may then make recommendations that are passed on to parents, caregivers, emergency medical personnel, manufacturers and schools. These recommendations might be about avoiding certain situations that can contribute to a child’s death.

This can result in notifying the manufacturer of a specific infant car seat, crib, playpen or toy that has a built-in flaw that may have contributed to the death of one or more children.

There are some circumstances in a death situation where the cause of death may originally appear to be caused by one thing, but on autopsy, it is discovered that something completely different actually caused the death.  This is why we need the autopsy performed when we are not absolutely sure of the cause.

 An example might be a vehicle crash where the driver crossed the center line and died, causing the death of another individual.  While this may seem like a case of reckless driving, it may found on autopsy that he actually suffered a lethal heart attack or stroke.

It is only natural for the family and loved ones of the deceased to cringe at the idea of an autopsy.  Many parents and spouses feel that they do not want to put their loved one through more suffering, after they have just died.  After all, what good is an autopsy?

I hope that I have just answered this question; and would like to add that no matter how “gross” or “cruel” an autopsy sounds, the deceased can no longer experience physical pain or suffering.

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