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Observing an autopsy

Seeing a post mortem will make it easier to recommend one to patients and their relatives?

  • By: Gemma Petts, Kirsty Lloyd, Michael Osborn
  • Published: 11 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1136/sbmj.e8122
  • Cite this as: Student BMJ 2012;20:e8122

Autopsy means “to see for oneself” and is an examination after death (postmortem examination), often referred to as a post mortem or PM.

In England and Wales nearly 100 000 autopsies take place each year. In 2011, 93 954 were carried out as part of a coroner’s investigation into a death. This number of autopsies accounts for about 20% of all deaths in 2011.1 Also, a smaller number of consented autopsies were carried out. But what does this mean? What is the difference between a coronial autopsy and a consented autopsy? Where do autopsies take place? And how is a postmortem examination done?

Three types of postmortem examination are undertaken in England and Wales—forensic (special, criminal), coroner’s, and consented.

Forensic autopsy is a subtype of coroner’s autopsy, and is conducted when there is a prospect that a criminal charge will be made against a perpetrator. These are performed by forensic pathologists under

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