Complete Autopsy | Full Body Examination
A complete autopsy includes both external examination and internal examination of all the major organs in the chest, neck, abdomen, pelvis, and head. This is typically how the majority of autopsies are performed since it will gain the most information. In reality, no autopsy is considered “complete” since the examination of the entire human body would take numerous hours. For example, in a typical “complete” autopsy the internal structures of the arms and legs are not examined. But in general, what pathologists consider a “complete” autopsy includes examination of all the major structures that will give “complete” information on determining how someone has died. A complete autopsy should be done in most situations. The autopsy is basically the last surgery the patient will receive. The examination is conducted in a stepwise surgical manner. The pathologist will typically have at least one or two assistants to aid in the procedure. These autopsy assistants are invaluable to the entire process. To start the autopsy examination, any clothing, jewelry or other personal effects are documented. After removing all clothing and other effects, the external examination continues in a stepwise fashion to document any identifying scars, tattoos or other marks on the body. Evidence of medical intervention is also documented such as the presence of resuscitation measures and catheters in the vessels. Injuries are documented on diagrams including their size, color and extent. Photographs of the major findings are done throughout the external procedure. Fluids are also taken during the external examination for drug (toxicology) testing and possibly other special studies. These fluids most commonly include blood, urine, and the clear fluid from inside the eyes (vitreous). In some cases, radiographs may be important, especially in deaths where gunshot or stab wounds are suspected. After completion of the external examination, the internal component of the autopsy examination begins. This typically involves an incision down the chest and abdomen and across the sides and top of the scalp. The incisions are done in a way that they can be covered up easily by clothing and other methods performed by a funeral home. The autopsy examination almost never precludes a viewing at the funeral home by family and friends. The internal examination will give the pathologist access to carefully inspect each internal organ for disease processes, malformations, and injuries. Looking at tissue under the microscope may become important in the autopsy and this can be achieved by taking very small portions of tissue (usually only a couple of millimeters) and having them undergo a process that places them on glass slides that will be appropriate for microscope evaluation. After each organ is examined, the tissue is placed back into the body cavities and the incisions are sutured. The body is then ready for release to the funeral home of the family’s choice.