The Autopsy Process: A Little Gross, But Very Important
Think about the key players in your favorite murder mystery or crime show. Along with dedicated cops, hardened FBI agents, or ruthless defense attorneys, there’s probably a coroner who makes an epic, plot twisting discovery after examining a victim’s body. While real life cases are not as dramatic as the ones in fiction, the examination is actually a very important part of any investigation.
When a dead body is examined, it is an autopsy. The examination is done by a pathologist, a doctor who specializes in the causes of disease and death on the human body.
When is an Autopsy Necessary?
- The cause of death is unknown or suspicious
- Family members are concerned about possible genetic diseases or issues
- The death occurred during a medical procedure
- The cause of death affects legal matters
- The death occurred during experimental treatments
- Examination of the body may help track or prevent a disease or other health hazard
Some cases require an autopsy. This would apply, for example, to a murder or death under suspicious circumstances. In these instances, the pathologist does not need the consent of the deceased’s next of kin.
The Autopsy Process
During an autopsy, the first step is an external examination. At this stage, the body is weighed and measured. The pathologist notes basic characteristics, like hair and eye color. Then, they examine for any foreign substances, like gun powder, dirt, or paint residue. If the death was suspicious, foreign substances on the body may point to a cause of death, or even provide evidence of a killer. They also take X-rays, along with samples of hair and nails.
The next step is internal examination, which involves dissecting the body. The pathologist cuts open the chest cavity to examine chest, abdominal, and pelvic organs. To do this, they remove the rib cage, using a saw or device known as a “rib-cutter.” This sounds like something out of a horror movie, but the pathologist treats the body with great care and respect. To examine the brain, the pathologist makes a cut across the crown of the head between the ears.
Once removed, the organs are preserved in formalin preserves, and if necessary, further examined or dissected. At this stage, the pathologist might also examine bodily fluids, like urine, blood, gel from the eyes, or bile.
After the Autopsy
It sounds like the body is ruined, but that’s not the case! After an autopsy is completed, organs and bones are returned to the body. Sometimes, the organs are placed in bags to prevent leaking. The body is then lined with cotton wool or another soft material and sewn back shut. This ensures that the body can still be presentable for an open-casket funeral, if that is the wish of their family.
Though an autopsy seems gross, it is very important. When someone dies, especially under negligent or odd circumstances, their family members will want answers, and an autopsy is one way to find out the truth.
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