Post Mortem Examinations
Post mortem is a Latin phrase that means “after death”. It often refers to an autopsy, which is the examination of a body of a person after his death in order to medically determine the cause of death. When a cause of death cannot be determined or is not certified by an attending physician, a medical examiner can hold an inquest or inquisition. This sometimes happens with a body of a person who may have died in a violent matter or in a suspicious death, such as death in prison.
The post mortem exam is done in order to find out certain details about the individual and death including:
· Cause of death
· The person’s health before death
· Whether a medical diagnosis or a treatment given before death was an appropriate course of action
In a rare situation where the cause of death still cannot be determined through a post mortem, the medical examiner may hold an inquest with a hearing. A medical examiner has the power to summon individuals to the inquest.
In a post mortem examination, the medical examiner looks at the external portion of the body. This includes documenting through notes and paperwork along with taking pictures of the body from different angles. If necessary, a post mortem may also include an x-ray.
After the external portion of the post mortem examination, the medical examiner then proceeds with the internal portion of the examination by making an incision in the chest of the person. One by one, internal organs are removed and examined. Tissue samples from the organs can be further examined. Usually some of the tissues are saved for a certain period of time as well.
Both written consent and clear communication are needed in order to retain the tissue along with other body parts from a post mortem exam. This applies to both the medical examiner as well as the hospital in respect to the relatives of the person.
In the United States, a post mortem is often used to determine the cause of death for legal purposes. United States law categorizes cause of deaths in five different categories:
Depending on the jurisdiction involved, undetermined cause of death can include deaths in absentia, meaning the person was declared to be dead despite any remains such as a skeleton or a corpse.
Aside from determining cause of death, a post mortem exam can sometimes be used to find the manner and cause of death and to identify a decent, particularly if the death was suspicious, violent, or without medical assistance or surgical procedures.
They can also be done for clinical or academic purposes. Performing the procedure can often lead to insight in just what processes were involved in the death. The can also be used to study anatomical structures.