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Autopsy Overview

An autopsy is a medical procedure involving the examination of a dead body. An autopsy is sometimes termed an obduction or a post-mortem examination. The word autopsy is derived from the Greek word autopsia, which means "to see with one's own eyes."

Autopsies are performed by pathologists, medical doctors who have received specialty training in the diagnosis of diseases by the examination of body fluids and tissues.

Autopsies are performed for a variety of reasons, including:

  • to determine the cause of death
  • to ascertain whether clinical diagnoses are correct
  • to evaluate the effectiveness of medical or surgical treatment
  • to gain information for the family about possible inherited or genetic conditions
  • for teaching and/or research purposes in academic hospitals
  • to aid in criminal investigations of wrongful death
  • to provide closure and reassurance for family members who may have questions about diagnoses or treatment

Forensic autopsies are a specialized form of autopsy with legal implications that are performed to determine if a given death was an accident, homicide, suicide, or a natural event.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/6/2014

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