Requesting an Autopsy
Who May Have an Autopsy
Yale New Haven Hospital will perform an autopsy free of charge for patients that expire at Yale New Haven Hospital–York Street and St. Raphael’s Campus, Bridgeport Hospital (Bridgeport and Milford Campus), Greenwich Hospital (pediatric only), and Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System–West Haven, as well as any person who passes away outside the affiliate establishments but have been seen recently at the above institutions. Yale New Haven Hospital is not responsible for obtaining consents from these locations. Consent must be taken by a staff member at the affiliate location and sent to the York Street Campus through an established channel.
The Autopsy Service will accept requests for private autopsies for a prepaid fee. Please call for options and pricing. The Autopsy Service retains the right to decline to perform an autopsy on any patient.
The State of Connecticut requires that the Medical Examiner examine deaths due to accident, homicide, suicide, and unknown causes. Yale New Haven Hospital is required to report patient deaths that fit the established criteria concerning manner of death to The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (State of Connecticut). Each case is reviewed and investigated by the trained Medicolegal Investigators. The Medical Examiner’s Office will determine if there is a need to further investigate the death. If a family requests an autopsy, and the case was reported to the medical examiner according to state regulations, we can perform the autopsy only if the medical examiner declines to investigate the case further.
Giving Permission for an Autopsy
According to Connecticut Statute Sec19a-286, the next of kin or person responsible for burial is authorized to give permission for a hospital autopsy. Permission may be given in person or through a witnessed telephone conversation. When consent is given in person, the “Consent for Postmortem Examination/Autopsy” must be signed both by the person entitled by law to control the disposition of the body and by a designated Yale New Haven Hospital staff member. Alternatively, consent may be given verbally over the telephone through a witnessed conversation with two designated Yale New Haven Hospital or affiliate staff members who will both sign the form. Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System–West Haven has their own autopsy consent form and process. Please contact them directly for their policies and procedures. The family may consent to a full, unrestricted autopsy, or may limit the extent of the autopsy. Statement 6 on the autopsy consent reads: ‘At the discretion of the attending pathologist in certain cases at YNHH (YSC or SRC), BH, GH, or the Veterans Hospital samples for genetic analysis may be taken and analyzed by DNA sequencing. These results may reveal information not only relevant to the deceased, but also to related family members. If genetic testing is carried out, I may arrange for the results of genetic testing to be presented to me by a genetic counselor. I also have the right to decline any genetic testing of the deceased.’ This option may not be applicable or available in all cases.
Limiting the Autopsy
Please note that a complete autopsy will not interfere with any funeral arrangements and that the Autopsy Service will honor any limitations placed on the autopsy. The family should consider what questions they have regarding the death of their loved one to determine what, if any, restrictions should be placed on the autopsy. If the family wants to know the cause of death, it is best to not place any limitations on the autopsy to afford us the best opportunity to determine the cause of death.
Statement 5 on the autopsy consent form reads: “I understand that I may place some limitations on both the retention of organs and the extent of the autopsy. I understand that any limitations may compromise the diagnostic value of the autopsy or may limit the usefulness of the autopsy for education, quality improvement or research purposes.” This statement means the family may either 1) grant permission for a complete autopsy, with removal, examination, and retention of material as the pathologists deem proper for the purposes listed in the consent, or 2) place restrictions on retention of organs or extent of the autopsy.
Please call the Autopsy Service if you have any questions regarding placing limitations on the autopsy.