An autopsy is sometimes called a 'post-mortem'. It is a detailed medical examination of a person's body after death. An autopsy can help explain why and how the death occurred.

In most cases an autopsy will be necessary to provide medical information about a death. The benefit of an autopsy is that it will provide detailed information about the person's health and so will give an understanding of the various factors which may have contributed to the death. Even if the cause of death seems clear, the person may have had a medical condition which was not apparent during life.

This information can be important for family members trying to come to terms with the death. From a medical point of view, if the person died from an infection or genetic disease an autopsy can provide valuable information for other family members.

As an autopsy is the only reasonably certain method of determining why a person died, in some cases these are legal reasons why it is important that an autopsy be performed. There are rare cases when even an autopsy cannot provide this information.


Unless there are objections to the autopsy, the autopsy is done without unnecessary delay. This is so that the person's body can be released to the family as quickly as possible and a funeral held with minimal delay. Any additional specialist tests may take up to 10 weeks or in exceptional cases even longer to complete - the autopsy report won't be finished until they are done.

If you have agreed as next-of-kin to a donation being made to the Donor Tissue Bank then this needs to be carried out within 12-24 hours of death.

Who Does the Autopsy?

The autopsy is usually conducted by a pathologist, who is a qualified doctor trained in pathology (the science which looks at the causes and effects on the body of disease or damage).

In Perth, the autopsy is performed by a forensic pathologist.

In country WA the autopsy will sometimes be performed by a doctor from the local hospital, but in most cases the autopsy will be conducted in Perth.

How the Autopsy is Done

The person's body is treated with great respect at all times.

The pathologist carries out a detailed external and internal examination of the body. The technical and scientific staff in the mortuary assist the pathologist.

Techniques similar to those used in surgical operations are involved. The major organs of the body are examined. After the autopsy, small specimens are taken for further detailed scientific and medical examination.

These examinations may include tests for:

These tests are carried out on samples of blood or tissue which are taken from the person's body and retained for that purpose. Occasionally it is necessary to retain larger portions of tissue or whole organs for medical tests in relation to the investigation of the death.

Information regarding organ retention following autopsy is available from the Coronial Counseling Service. Telephone - 9425 2900, country calls - 1800 671 994.

Last updated: 11-Dec-2017

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