Prevention Of Wrongful Autopsy

The following three steps should be taken by the pathologist and not delegated to other personnel.

1. Contact the medical examiner or coroner if the jurisdiction of a case is in doubt.

2. Review all name tags and identification bracelets to ascertain that the body is in fact the one for which an autopsy permission has been granted. The apparent age, sex, wounds, and therapeutic apparatuses should be consistent with the information available in the medical history. A pathologist may be found liable for an unauthorized autopsy unless it can be proven that the actions did not result from negligence (13).

3. If a body is released from a hospital to the medical examiner or coroner, it appears advisable to notify the next of kin that the office has custody of the body, particularly if review of the records indicates any objections to an autopsy. The medical examiner or coroner also must be informed about such an objection, otherwise the hospital might be held liable (5). The possibility that the medical examiner or coroner would have done the autopsy anyway does not change the need for such communication.

4. Ascertain that the autopsy authorization form is properly completed and signed. Possible restrictions must be noted and conveyed to technicians, residents, or other persons who might help with the autopsy. If a signed authorization form is not used, a form containing all pertinent information should, nevertheless, be used to avoid errors and misunderstandings.

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