In this lesson, we’ll learn about the procedure known as an autopsy, including the definition of this term, the actual procedure, and what the results can mean to those left behind.
An autopsy is a complete external and internal medical examination of the body that occurs after death. An autopsy is completed in an attempt to determine the cause of death when it’s not readily known.
There are two types of autopsies: The forensic autopsy, and the medical autopsy. A forensic autopsy is usually ordered when a person dies under suspicious circumstances, the death is trauma-related, or if the death is sudden and the person was healthy.
A medical autopsy is completed when family wants to know more about the health-related issue that caused the death, and to see if there are any health conditions that could affect other living relatives.
Whether you are doing a medical or forensic autopsy, the standard procedure remains the same. The autopsy starts with the pathologist completing the external examination of the body. This examination is completed in order to document all scars, marks, tattoos, medical devices, and anything else the doctor feels is relevant.The examiner will use a diagram that shows the decedent’s name, age, race, sex, autopsy or case number, and the date the procedure was conducted. The external exam starts by documenting everything from head to toe.
This includes hair color and length, eye color and pupil size, condition of teeth, any defects, height, and weight. A full set of photographs are also taken during each step of the autopsy in order to have visual documentation.After completion of the external examination and an overall set of photographs have been taken, the autopsy technician or the pathologist will begin to dissect the body using the Y Incision technique. Using a scalpel, an incision is made at the shoulders and continues to the sternum making the top part of the Y. Then one single incision is made from the sternum to the top of the pubic area, making sure that the incision loops around the belly button.The next step is to reflect the skin back from the chest plate in order to expose the chest plate and ribs.
Once the autopsy technician or pathologist checks the chest plate and rib cage for any defects, a stryker saw is used to cut through the clavicle bone. The cut continues downward through the ribs, and the chest plate is removed, exposing the internal organs.The autopsy technician or pathologist must decide whether to remove the internal organs in two individual blocks, known as the Rokitansky method, or to remove all of the organs individually. Block 1 is from the trachea to just above the large intestine.
The organs that are included in block 1 are the trachea, heart, lungs, liver, spleen, and stomach. The organs that are included in block 2 are the large intestine, small intestine, kidneys, appendix, and the adrenaline glands. While removing the organs, specimens of blood and urine are taken for submission to a toxicology lab in order to test for over 500 types of drugs and poisons, as well as for alcohol.
After completing the dissection of the chest and abdomen, the head is next, where an incision is made behind one ear and goes across the back of the head to the opposite ear. The skin is reflected, and the skull is opened using a stryker saw. After removing the cut portion of the skull, the brain is examined and then removed.
Lastly, the eye fluid or vitreous is extracted in order to send the specimen to the toxicology lab to test for glucose levels and for alcohol.
The results of an autopsy are used to determine the cause of death of an individual. In medical cases, the results can alert other family members to diseases or health conditions that could be tested for and treated. In forensic cases, the results can help determine if the death was a homicide, a suicide, an accident, or even natural.
Let’s review what we learned…An autopsy is a complete external and internal medical examination of the body that occurs after death.
There are two types of autopsies: a forensic autopsy is ordered when a person dies suspiciously, the death is trauma-related, or if the death is sudden; a medical autopsy is completed when the family wants to know more about the health-related issue that caused the death.The procedure for an autopsy includes an external examination of the body from head to toe in order to document everything from scars and tattoos to marks and medical devices. The procedure also includes the dissection of the body, where the Y-incision technique is used to open the torso and remove the organs, often through the Rokitansky method where the internal organs are removed in two individual blocks. The dissection also involves cutting open the head with a stryker saw and examining and removing the brain. Blood, urine, and other body fluids are also removed and tested. The results of the autopsy are then used to determine the cause of death of the individual.