The Probate Department

Post Mortem – What, Why and How

What is an Autopsy or Post Mortem?

An autopsy (or post-mortem examination or necropsy) is the examination of the deceased to determine the cause of death.  It tries to identify the nature and extent of disease, or to whether a particular medical or surgical treatment has been effective. It is the coroner who may request an autopsy.

Autopsies are performed by pathologists, specially trained doctors. In academic institutions, autopsies may be carried out for teaching and research purposes. Forensic autopsies have legal implications and determine if death was an accident, homicide, suicide, or a natural event.

The word autopsy is derived from the Greek word autopsia: “to see with one’s own eyes.”

Digital Autopsies – the way forward?

Digital autopsies could be the way forward in many cases, especially when the cost (around £600 at the start of 2015) fall.   The present invasive system mean opening up the body to try to find out what caused the death.  It is not ideal for those left behind, especially for families wishing to view the body afterwards, though clearly the staff do their best to maintain the dignity of the deceased.  But their main function is to determine the cause of death.

Digital autopsy involves a three-dimensional scan of the body using a CT scanner, before iGene’s revolutionary visualization software enables the pathologist to conduct a full, non-invasive digital post mortem, with the results being available shortly after.

There are about 550,000 deaths recorded in the UK each year, of which more than 200,000 are subjected to post-mortem, and it is expected that in the future digital autopsies will account for 70 per cent of these. The first facility, at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Centre is operated by Sheffield City Council.

Digity autopsies are a development of radiocactive scanning technology, where the radiation levels can be higher than normal and reveal even greater detail.  There is an example of one at the foot of the page.  The digital autopsy is not ideal in every circumstance but it is a much “nicer” way of proceeding than having to open up the body.

At the moment, few areas offer the digital alternative as standard – given the extra cost – but in some others the digital autopsy may be available if the family are willing to pay the cost.

With the iGene developed digital autopsy scanner, digital autopsy involves a scan of the body using a GE CT scanner, then revolutionary software creates a 3D image of the body, enabling the pathologist to conduct a full, non-invasive digital post-mortem using a large, touchscreen tablet computer. Where necessary, the scene of death or crime could also be reconstructed digitally using the 3D capabilities of the system. The results of the digital post mortem are available almost immediately.

Video of a digital post mortem: