What is Autopsy?

Meaning and Definition of Autopsy

Autopsy comes from the Greek and literally means observation or examination of a corpse . It is an integrated procedure with forensic medicine , being the only branch of medicine that is not intended to cure patients.


The first step is to carry out an external analysis of the deceased or the corpse to observe possible injuries or abnormal signs. Likewise, tissue samples are collected for later analysis in the laboratory. Then, one or more incisions are made in the body to obtain information about the bones and internal organs.

The examination of the cadaver is exhaustive and focuses on three parts of the body: thorax, abdomen and genital tract. Through various techniques, the viscera are extracted for their corresponding examination.

From a historical point of view, the first autopsy was carried out in the 13th century, in Italy, when a doctor examined several corpses to discover the possible causes of an epidemic of plague . In the 18th century, in Russia, the first legal norm was incorporated that required the practice of autopsies in cases related to violent deaths.

Test Types

There are generally five types of complementary tests to obtain more information about the deceased person. Therefore, the vitreous humor is analyzed to determine the date and time of death, as well as to detect the presence of drugs in the body.

On the other hand, the other four most common complementary tests are: analysis of gastric content, bladder content, possible toxic substances and haematological immunological analysis.

Clinical and Legal

The first is intended to determine changes in organs and tissues related to diseases that were present in the deceased person, since it is often necessary to know about possible errors in medical procedures.

The second is used as a judicial tool to clarify the cause of death of an individual and occurs when there is evidence of a criminal character in the body.

Forensic Medicine

Forensic medicine is related to a wide range of atypical situations: suicides, accidents, murders, kinship analysis, etc. Autopsies are also used to learn all kinds of historical information (virtual autopsies made it possible to determine the physical characteristics of some pharaohs in ancient Egypt).

In the jargon of legal professionals, it is sometimes said that the “ dead speak ”.

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