Information about post-mortems for friends and relatives

When someone dies it can be a very difficult, distressing and confusing time. If the death was sudden and unexplained or was violent or unnatural, then a post-mortem examination (also known as an autopsy) may be needed.

Post-mortems are crucial to understanding why people die and are vitally important in advancing our understanding of disease. 

Research has shown that a significant number of post-mortems identify disease that wasn’t suspected during life and up to a quarter find disease that would have affected the patient’s treatment if it been identified before death. Post-mortems are often called the ‘gold standard’, and are currently the best way to find out why someone died, providing valuable information for doctors and helping families understand exactly what happened.

Post-mortems are usually carried out within two to three working days after someone dies. Where possible, consideration will be given to different cultural traditions.

The following information explains why a post-mortem is carried out and what it involves.