It is unpleasant indeed to dwell on the thoughts of death of our loved ones, but there are decisions to be made at these inevitable times, and one of them is to ascertain what examinations of the deceased person shall be made. In the hospital the body is treated with just as much respect as before death ensued, and examinations are never performed without the written permission of the closest relatives of the expired person (except, of course, when ordered by the coroner in criminal investigations). The extent of the examinations of the body are limited exactly to the extent to which the closest relatives have expressed their wishes in writing. Never fear that these wishes are exceeded by examinations for which permission was not granted.
Probably no other procedure has contributed as much to the knowledge of the medical profession as the postmortem examination. The terms postmortem examination and autopsy should not have connotations of experimentation; rather, they mean simply examination of the body after death. The examinations may be of any magnitude, from simple physical examination of the external features (which contributes little, actually, since this has been done before death) to complete internal examination of all the body organs. If an operation has been performed, it may only be necessary to reopen the incision and extend it to learn the complete story of the disease process that ensued. In most cases the chest cavity and the abdominal cavities are opened to study the organs therein. The complete postmortem examination also includes an operation on the head to inspect the brain and allied structures. What diseases are suspected will determine the extent of the postmortem studies. This will be discussed with the nearest relative before the consent for the examinations is obtained. The postmortem examinations are done by the hospital pathologist, and there is usually no expense involved whatsoever.
The value of the postmortem examination to all concerned cannot be overemphasized. It contributes greatly to the advancement of science and to the treatment of subsequent patients with the same disease. Certain diseases have hereditary or familial tendencies, so it may even contribute to the treatment of a relative of the deceased at a later time.
One of the greatest means of evaluating the standard of practice of the hospital staff is through the postmortem studies to determine whether everything possible had been done for the patient, and there is great satisfaction for the family in knowing that everything possible had been done.
Insurance policies and many other personal affairs of the deceased are more easily and promptly settled when the exact cause of death has been confirmed by autopsy.
There is no religion which prohibits the performance of postmortem studies.
These examinations do not in any way disfigure the body, and morticians are co-operative with the medical profession in this respect, for they well realize the values of such studies.
No one but the closest of kin will be asked to give permission for the postmortem examinations, and the body will be treated with every respect.