Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I consider granting permission for an autopsy?

Many people believe that autopsies should only be performed when there is uncertainty as to the cause of death. Although this is certainly a good reason for an autopsy, it is not the only reason. An autopsy can be reassuring for the family, verifying that there was nothing unknown going on. If unexpected findings are uncovered, this can be of great benefit to the continuing education of our doctors and nurses. Autopsy examination allows us to fully evaluate the extent of the disease process and the effectiveness of therapy, giving us more information about how diseases behave in the human body and how we might better help other patients with similar diseases.

What will the autopsy cost me? Who may give permission for an autopsy?

In Connecticut, the permission of the family member who is assuming responsibility for the burial of the patient is required for a hospital autopsy. Permission may be given in person by signing the permission form, or may be given over the phone if the telephone conversation is witnessed by a second member of the hospital staff.

What actually happens during an autopsy?

An autopsy, derived from a Greek word meaning "seeing for oneself", is a careful medical examination of the body and its organs by a physician specializing in the study of human diseases. Surgical techniques are used to remove and examine each organ, and tissue is selected for microscopic examination or other special tests as indicated. Each procedure is conducted with the utmost skill, respect, and professionalism.

Are there religious objections to performing an autopsy?

Autopsies have been performed on individuals of all religious backgrounds, and most major religions leave this decision to the next-of-kin. However, as religious decisions are always personal, you may wish to consult with your priest, minister, rabbi, or other religious leader.

Will an autopsy limit what funeral arrangements I am able to make?

No. Even a complete autopsy in no way disfigures the body, and the deceased can still be viewed in an open casket. In addition, since autopsies are performed seven days a week, 365 days a year, there is generally no need to delay or alter funeral arrangements. The hospital staff will work with the funeral director of your choice to be sure the body is available on time.

If I would like some questions answered, but do not want a complete autopsy performed, can I give per-mission for a limited autopsy?

Yes. We will honor any restrictions which you might wish to make. It is not uncommon, for example, for the family to request that the autopsy examination not include examination of the brain. Of course, many diseases affect multiple organs and tissues, and as such we prefer to perform as complete an examination as is possible so the most information will be obtained.

Can an autopsy be performed even if I have given permission for organ donation?

Yes. Of course, any organs which have been donated cannot be evaluated at the time of the autopsy, but much can still be learned from the organs which remain. Yale–New Haven Hospital recognizes the importance of evaluating the death of every one of its patients to the fullest extent possible. Therefore, we will perform an autopsy free of charge on anyone who has ever been a patient of the Yale–New Haven Hospital. This is true even if the patient dies outside of the hospital, such as in a nursing facility or at home. Can Yale do an autopsy on someone who was never a patient of the Yale–New Haven Hospital? Yes. We provide a full range of consultation services for other hospitals and members of the community. This ranges from complete autopsies to examination of individual organs to review of slides from an autopsy performed at another institution. However, if the patient was never treated at Yale, we have to charge a fee to cover our expenses in processing the case.