Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors

"Are autopsies done on everyone who dies?"


If someone has a heart attack do they need to be autopsied? What about cancer? What's the point?


To answer your question -- No. Autopsies are not performed on everyone who dies. The laws of each state vary, but ultimately the family and the wishes of the person (if known) are respected.

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If you have further concerns regarding this, I would recommend you discuss this with your doctor. Autopsies are not performed on everyone. For people who pass away in the hospital, the family (or next of kin) is asked if they would like an autopsy. If the patient has advance directives or a living will that specifically describes their wishes -- this will be respected. Often, if the cause of death is known (like a sick cancer patient), there is no need. Regardless it will be offered to the family. There are some situations in which an autopsy will be performed. All deaths out of the hospital (in some states) will have an autopsy performed unless specifically declined by the family. Also, deaths under unclear circumstances -- like murder or suicide -- will often have an autopsy. Autopsies are a medical procedure in order to determine the cause of death. The point of the procedure is to determine exactly what caused the patient's death -- often this is helpful if the cause of the death is unclear. For example, if someone is suddenly sick for unexplained reasons -- this can be helpful in order to determine what the cause is. This can be helpful as we worry that the cause is an infection that could harm others, or a genetic disorder that can affect other family members.

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