View Full Version : How long does it take to get an autopsy done...

02-18-2010, 10:06 PM
...if there's no evidence of foul play? My MC found a body, apparently dead of a heart attack. The local hospital is too busy to help me with this. :(


02-18-2010, 10:14 PM
It all depends, if the body is an evidence to
a murder case then it takes longer, but if it was just some
death cause out of natural causes, then it takes quicker!!!

02-18-2010, 10:24 PM
Well, it's murder, but nobody knows it because it was done with magic. So there's no case, per se. Except in the MC's POV.

Oh, and another question just occurred to me: are autopsy results confidential? Would they only be made available to the next of kin, or would a girlfriend be told how it came out?


Chris P
02-18-2010, 10:37 PM
Mine's going to have to wait another 40 years or so (I hope!) :)

In all seriousness, I think a natural causes autopsy can be completed in a couple hours. The blood work (if done) sometimes takes a day or two to come back from the lab. Contact someone at a medical college. They're usually happy to help.

02-18-2010, 10:48 PM
Starting question is why are they doing an autopsy? Depending upon the age and health of the deceased, the autopsy can consist of an EMT describing the circumstances to the ER doctor, and that's it. I've dealt with several bodies where the only thing that the coroner got was my report. Body went straight to the funeral home.

Assuming the body is a younger person, in good health, and the death is unexpected, then the question becomes whether the circumstances indicate a cause of death. There were three young ladies killed in a car crash that as far as I know, never had an autopsy. Of course, we had two decapitations and the third was massive blunt force trauma from a collision into a semi at 90 mph+. Only thing anyone was concerned about was a blood sample for alcohol level and that was more than enough to explain what happened. And the semi driver walked away, shaken but not stirred.

Autopsies cost money, and that has to be balanced with the knowledge that will be gained. So the question again is why are they doing the autopsy? We've seen a steady decrease in the number of autopsies being done.

I think a normal autopsy can be done in about two hours, but tissue samples and/or entire organs are taken for further examination. Blood and urine are also tested. These tests can take weeks or months to complete. Nor does this time include time for photographs, removal of clothing, dictating report, or teaching. For a detailed forensic autopsy where the cause of death is under question, it can last several days. An autopsy can be done in a start and stop manner, if needed. The body can be held by the coroner until all of these tests are finished, or released earlier.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

02-18-2010, 11:13 PM
Thank you very much! That's very helpful.


02-19-2010, 03:21 AM
Try this link:
ETA: You can also PM C.M. Daniels with specific questoins. He's a deputy coroner and helped me with a lot of similar questions.

02-19-2010, 03:28 AM
I don't know if anyone covered it, but histopath takes about a week, give or take. That means looking at sections of tissue under a microscope. you can only rush it so much b/c you have to prep the tissue. If they suspect organ damage, they typically look at that organ on histo. The final report won't be sent until these results are in. I have no idea if all human cases get basic histo of the major organs or if 'straight forward' cases are released without it (tissues will be saved for at least a short length of time in case someone says 'wait, maybe we do need to look at that guy's heart liver spleen and kidneys for evidence of X!') (once you stick tissue in formalin, it doesn't terribly matter if you continue with the histo prep the next day or next week or month.)

Histo = Histology
Histopath = Histopathology

Little Red Barn
02-19-2010, 03:30 AM
A Coroner (not a doctor) is always called in when there is a death.

If death is questionable, Coroner asks for an autopsy:

Autopsy 1-2 hours to complete and is done by a Medical Examiner (doctor).

Toxicology report can take up to 2-4 weeks.

02-19-2010, 03:39 AM
Ye gods, I wasn't even aware that our county had a Coroner! LOL!


Bing Z
02-19-2010, 03:45 AM
There is another site - Coroner Stories (http://www.coronerstories.com/) - run by a real-life coroner that may be helpful. In fact he has a page about autopsy-vs-investigation (http://www.coronerstories.com/2006/08/11/autopsy-vs-investigation/)that's pretty relevant. Basically he confirms jclarkdawe's point that many deaths (natural or otherwise) won't have an autopsy.

02-19-2010, 12:29 PM
I used to go out with a UK Forensic Pathologist. She got though 800 plus autopsies per annum and that was a fairly high rate.

There was a lot of travel involved with her job so she spent a couple of hours per day on the road and most of the rest in the office finishing reports.

So the actual bit with the routine disembowelling is fairly quick, 30-45 minutes if I remember rightly. Would be longer for a special case or where they were looking for something in particular.

If the deceased is young or there is no obvious reason for death then there is likely to be an autopsy. Otherwise not as likely. Imagine how frustrating it would be for your MC if she knew that an autopsy would have uncovered the evidence they needed but it wasn't done.

02-19-2010, 03:25 PM
A Coroner (not a doctor) is always called in when there is a death.

If death is questionable, Coroner asks for an autopsy:

Autopsy 1-2 hours to complete and is done by a Medical Examiner (doctor).

Toxicology report can take up to 2-4 weeks.
bolding is mine
Actually, in many jurisdictions a coroner is a doctor--I personally know one family practice doc who was appointed--requirements vary according to the location/local law. On that note, not all jurisdictions employ coroners but rather Medical Examiners/Forensic Pathologists. I learned this while doing research for my MS.


Medical examiner or Coroner?
While many types of medical doctors are capable of performing autopsies, most states or local government laws mandate that an appointed forensic pathologist do the work. These appointees are called medical examiners and have an official position in the county medical examiner system
Not all counties use the medical examiner system. Some counties use coroners and a coroner's system. There are two major differences between medical examiners and coroners and their corresponding systems.

Hope that helps! :)