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When a Post-Mortem is Needed

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 27 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
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Post mortem examinations are medical examinations of a body usually carried out in order to investigate the cause of the deceased’s death. In the UK, if a death is being treated as suspicious, the deceased’s body will be referred to the coroner for further investigation. If this happens, the proper authorities will likely register the death, but there may be a delay in when the family can bury or cremate their loved one’s remains. Only when the post mortem examination is finished and the coroner issues proper certificates allowing burial or cremation may the body be taken away and prepared according to the family’s wishes.

Information from Post Mortem Examinations

Post mortem examinations provide a wealth of information about how the deceased passed away. This information can be useful to the police or other investigators in the case of a crime, but it can also be very useful to families who should know the medical history of their loved one, and if his or her ill health was the cause of death. If such is the case, then the information gleaned from a post mortem may also help medical staff who cared for the deceased better care for similar cases in the future. This abundance of information comes from the fact that post mortems can reveal the cause of death, any illness from which an individual was suffering and/or conditions which may never have been diagnosed while the deceased was alive. The results of these examinations can also provide even further information, such as how specific medication was affecting the course of a disease in this specific case, or if there were any unknown or unnoticed side effects or complications from the course of treatment. Sometimes this information can also be used in medical research or education.

Carrying Out Post Mortem Examinations

Post mortem examinations are usually carried out within three days of the death. If the deceased left instructions that (s)he did not want a post mortem, or that (s)he wanted a particular type of post mortem, then these wishes should be made known immediately and the family and authorities will need to take this information into account. If a post mortem must be carried out more quickly for religious reasons (such as within 24 hours of the death), this should be disclosed immediately as well. As these examinations include both external and internal investigations, they are carried out similarly to an operation. Post mortems will not leave the deceased unable to be viewed after the procedure, and often the face, hands and feet are left untouched. Open casket viewings and/or funerals may still occur after such a procedure. Post mortems take place in a mortuary, and if anything extensive must occur – such as an organ needing to be kept for examination – it will be discussed with the family.

After Post Mortem Examinations

When a post mortem is complete and the body can be released to the family, the coroner will issue proper certification allowing for a burial or cremation to commence. Unless the deceased left strict instructions that the post mortem results should remain confidential, anything discovered in the examination can usually be reported to the family. This final report is usually available within a month of the examination being completed. Most GPs will be available to discuss the findings contained in these reports in a scheduled appointment.

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