Frequently Asked Questions
For additional information as you consider our services, please review the questions below:
Q: What is an autopsy?
A: An autopsy is an examination of the body after death with the assessment of all of the organs to determine the cause of death. This assessment includes both the visual inspection of the body and organs (gross examination) as well as the microscopic analysis of every organ to diagnose all the disease states that existed in the deceased at the moment of death. The autopsy report generated from that study should include not only an inventory of the disease states that existed in the individual but should also answer the questions as to “Why did this person die at this particular point of time?” as well as “What were the interactions of all the diseases that became incompatible with further living?”. On occasion, additional ancillary studies must be undertaken to answer these questions. This might include microbiology cultures, toxicology analysis, or special immunologic procedures.
Q: Who can request an autopsy?
A: Generally, only the legal next of kin or the court appointed Power of Attorney can request an autopsy. Please see sample request form under consent form button to determine the sequential order of who is the appropriate next of kin that can request an autopsy.
Q: Where will the autopsy be performed?
A: All autopsies are performed at the autopsy Genesis Lab at MacNeal Hospital 3249 Oak Park Ave, Berwyn, IL 60402. CAAS will provide its own transportation service for a fee of $250 each way, or $500 round trip. This fee may be slightly higher at greater distances for the immediate Chicago area (e.g. – Northwestern Indiana, Southwestern Michigan, Southern Wisconsin, or Southern or Western Illinois). If necessary, in a brain only examination, the autopsy assistants can remove the brain at the funeral home, eliminating the need to bring the deceased to MacNeal Hospital. The cost of the brain only autopsy is $1400 if we transport and $900 if we're allowed to go to the funeral home.
Q: Will I be able to have an open casket funeral once the autopsy is completed?
A: Yes. The incisions required to perform a full or limited autopsy as well as those requiring removal of the brain will not affect the usual presentation in an open casket funeral.
Q: How much does an autopsy cost?
A: The fee for all autopsies, either full or limited, is $2200. Transportation is provided by our removal service. Extra fees are required for specialized studies such as toxicology, DNA testing, asbestos testing, photography, etc. Fees will vary depending on the services requested.
Q: Why perform an autopsy?
A: From the pathologist’s point of view, our goal is to determine the cause of death as well as to determine the additional diseases which may have contributed to the cause of death. Family members may be interested in obtaining additional information which an autopsy can provide, such as:
- Did the deceased have any cancer?
- Did the deceased have any inheritable disease which can be passed on to the next generation?
- Issues of paternity.
- The cause of the deceased’s dementia. Was there evidence of Alzheimer’s disease? Was there evidence of strokes?
- Was there evidence of trauma, even if it wasn’t the cause of death?
- Was there any evidence of any infections or communicable diseases?
Q: Can I limit the autopsy to a particular part of the body?
A: Yes. An autopsy can be as complete or as limited as you choose. The wishes of the family need to be listed on the autopsy permit form. We will not exceed the limitations placed on the performance of the autopsy.
Q: How long does an autopsy generally take?
A: The usual postmortem examination takes approximately 2 hours.
Q: How soon after death should an autopsy be performed?
A: It is recommended that an autopsy be performed within 48 hours of death. If the deceased is refrigerated at the funeral home or embalmed, this time frame can be extended. Embalming a body will interfere with toxicology studies as well as the ability to obtain tissue for microbiology culture. Delay with refrigeration may also interfere with obtaining tissue for culture as well as cause some degree of post-mortem deterioration of the internal tissues (autolysis).
Q: Once an autopsy is performed elsewhere, can I have a second autopsy (re-autopsy) performed for a second opinion?
A: Yes. We are frequently asked to perform a second autopsy or re-autopsy to either confirm the findings from the first autopsy or to perform additional studies not performed during the first autopsy.
Q: How can my family benefit from an autopsy?
A: As mentioned above, findings generated from a postmortem examination can be used to determine if the deceased had any inheritable diseases which could be passed on to the next generation. The determination of the specific type of cancer the deceased may have had is important, in that certain types of cancers have a familial incidence, or that other cancers, such as mesothelioma, may be caused by exposure to toxic or harmful substances (asbestos). At times, issues of paternity testing are desired in order to settle issues relating to the deceased’s estate. Lastly, comes the value of piece of mind in the knowledge of what was the cause of death – that everything that could have been done medically for the deceased was done – that the surgery was successful and was without complications – that the nature of the deceased’s cancer was one of incurability no matter how soon a diagnosis could have been made, or whatever treatment that was given would have been any more successful if given earlier.
Q: Can I speak to someone about my concerns and wishes regarding the autopsy both before and after?
A: Yes. We encourage the next of kin to inform us before beginning the autopsy of all of your concerns about the health conditions of the loved one prior to the final illness and death. This additional information will guide us in looking for specific conditions to explain the symptoms and complications the loved one had. Likewise, communication after the autopsy as performed is equally valuable. At the conclusion of the autopsy, a pathologist will communicate with the responsible family member within 24 hours of the major findings that the autopsy uncovered. While these findings are only provisional, they will be expanded upon with the results of reviewing microscopic slides of the organs and the results of any additional studies such as toxicology or tissue cultures which will complete the analysis.
Q: How soon can I expect the autopsy results or report?
A: Within 24 hours of the completion of the autopsy, our pathologist will discuss the preliminary findings with the responsible family member. The final completed autopsy report is usually completed within 60 days. This delay is due to the time necessary to process microscopic slides and review them, to obtain results from tissue cultures and toxicology, as well as to obtain any specialized consultations that are needed from other pathology experts. The completed report will be mailed to the responsible family member as well as to any other interested parties that the responsible family member requests.
Q: Can an exhumed body be autopsied?
A: Yes. We have experience with performing autopsies on exhumed bodies that have been buried up to 5 years. In some jurisdictions, a court order must be obtained in order to perform an exhumation. Depending on the concerns of the family members as to what information they are seeking from an exhumation autopsy, useful information can be obtained. Exhumations are generally not advisable during the winter months. They are likewise not recommended for analysis of brain tissue. Our fee for the performance of an exhumation autopsy is $3000. Additional fees must be considered – to the cemetery for the disinterment as well as reburial, as well as to the funeral home to transport the casket to Evanston Hospital with its return to the cemetery. These additional costs must be considered in whether to undertake such a course of action.