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Hospital Autopsy | Print |

The hospital pathologist when requested to do an autopsy should be sure, from the review of the history, that the death is not in the Medical Examiner's jurisdiction. If there is doubt, and the Medical Examiner has not been notified of the death, it is prudent to notify the Medical Examiner and to abide by his/her instructions. If any autopsy commences and during the course of an autopsy it becomes clear that the case should have been in the Medical Examiner's jurisdiction, the autopsy should be stopped at that point and the Medical Examiner's Office consulted to ascertain the Medical Examiner's requirements in the case. The hospital staff should not request autopsy permission from the family when the death is clearly a Medical Examiner case. Physicians should wait to approach the family for permission or autopsy until it has been determined that the death does not fall under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction or that the medical examiner will not need the body for an autopsy. If the family has refused autopsy permission, and then the Medical Examiner is notified, needless difficulties can occur, including claims that the Medical Examiner was called just to get an autopsy.

The Medical Examiner is authorized to perform autopsies by the Georgia Death Investigation Act. No permission is needed by the Medical Examiner in order to perform autopsies, unlike the hospital autopsy where permission of the family or legal agent is required.

If an autopsy is clearly required for medicolegal purposes, it will usually be performed by the Medical Examiner. In rare instances, the medical examiner may take jurisdiction in the case but allow the hospital to perform an autopsy if they have obtained permission.

Interested physician(s) may attend a Medical Examiner's autopsy and/or receive a copy of the autopsy report unless providing such a report may interfere with a criminal investigation or is in conflict with other laws or legal procedures.

Instances may arise where the Medical Examiner has jurisdiction in a death, e.g., hospitalized patient with a fractured femur sustained in a fall at home, but clinicians desire an autopsy authorized by the next-of-kin to be performed by the hospital pathologist. This can usually be accomplished if the following procedure is followed:

  • Notify the Medical Examiner's Office of the death immediately with a clear statement of events which caused the injury. A Medical Examiner investigative record will be prepared and a case number assigned to the death.
  • Inform the investigator taking the call that an autopsy is desired at the hospital for clinical interest. Do not request autopsy permission from the family until assessment has been made by the Medical Examiner that a hospital autopsy can be performed and that the medical examiner will not need to perform an autopsy.
  • If the death has been assessed by the Medical Examiner and approval given to seek autopsy permission from the surviving next-of-kin, the physician can then request permission from the next of kin. If permission is not granted, an autopsy obviously will not be performed.
  • Once the autopsy is completed, a copy of the report should be forwarded to the Medical Examiner's Office to complete the record. The FCME will complete the death certificate in such cases.

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Fulton County Medical Examiner

430 Pryor Street SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30312
Phone: 404-613-4400
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