An Autopsy Report
This page contains information about the autopsy report. Of great importance to family members, the autopsy report contains the final diagnosis of the cause of death.
Determination of the cause of death occurs only after a thorough death scene investigation and a complete autopsy have been done. It is usual practice for the forensic pathologist to review medical records, which may include family history. The autopsy is conducted by a physician who has specialty training as a pathologist or forensic pathologist. The pathologist may seek assistance from other physicians with specialty training in neuropathology (the brain), pediatric pathology (children), cardiac pathology (the heart), and radiology (imaging techniques). Usually, a toxicologist (a chemist) provides expertise as a part of the autopsy examination. The pathologist or forensic pathologist should be able to determine the final cause of death within 120 days, and often much sooner. You may contact your Medical Examiner’s Office or Coroner’s Office in your local jurisdiction or State to obtain the autopsy report.
Each family has individual needs, and some families may choose to not obtain a copy of this report. Many find the report to be extremely helpful. The technical language used in the report may be overwhelming and confusing. If you obtain the autopsy report and have any questions, you may call the Medical Examiner’s Office or Coroner’s Office to request assistance and explanation. In addition to speaking with the forensic pathologist (from the Medical Examiner’s Office or Coroner’s Office) who conducted the examination, you may wish to review the report with your child’s pediatrician or family physician.
Check a state’s policy on autopsy results
Autopsy policies vary from State to State. Calling your local Health Department or contacting your State Office of the Chief Medical Examiners office will help point you in the right direction to gain access to an autopsy report. Some states limit autopsy reports to next of kin or individuals who have a legitimate interest in the report. Several states make autopsy reports public records, though in certain circumstances, the records can be withheld.
Most states require a written request for the autopsy report. The details on the request, as well as the address for the request and the request form, can be found on the website of a state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and/or Coroner's Office. Remember that this is the state in which the death occurred. In most written requests, you will need to include your full name, your address, your telephone number, your relationship to the deceased, their date of death, and the county in which the death occurred.
Most autopsy reports are provided at no charge to the next of kin and other legitimate individuals. However, some states, like Maryland and Texas, require a fee for a completed, detailed autopsy report. The fee may vary.
Medical Testing For Inherited Disorders
The CJ Foundation offers this information as a starting point for discussions with your personal doctor. It is not meant to be sufficient for all families who have suffered an unexplained death.
When faced with the loss of a child due to a sudden and/or unexplained death, parents oftentimes wonder if they should have other family members tested for potentially causal medical conditions. While there is no simple answer to provide, we have prepared a document under the guidance of clinical experts to assist families in gathering information to present to their own family physician(s).