A post mortem is a careful external and internal examination of the body after death
and cannot be rushed. It is done by a pathologist who is a doctor trained in this
work. A coroner may ask a specialist forensic pathologist to examine the body if
a death is suspicious, and if a baby or young child has died, a specialist paediatric
pathologist will, where practical, be asked to perform the post mortem.
Organs are removed during a post mortem and samples of body fluids and organ tissue
may be taken for some laboratory tests that can help to confirm the cause of death.
Organs will then be returned to the body, but sometimes the coroner will ask for
further laboratory tests, called special examinations, because the cause of death
remains uncertain and an inquest will be held. You should be told what organs and
tissues are needed and given some idea of how long the tests will take.
Laboratory tests involve study of small samples of organ or tissue under a microscope
(histology) and analysis of body fluids for unusual substances. These tests are a
very important part of a post mortem and can be especially so in baby post mortems.
They are also the only way to confirm or exclude particular diseases or infections,
drugs (illegal or prescribed), poisons or genetic diseases, as causing or contributing
to a death. They may take several weeks to complete and can delay the funeral (Section
12), but the tests are necessary and it is important for relatives that they are
done, particularly if other relatives may be affected.
If you are asked to sign any forms concerning a post mortem or special (or preliminary)
examinations, you should establish whether or not the coroner has been officially
informed of the death and has jurisdiction. If the coroner's jurisdiction has not
been established, your written consent (Section 10) must be obtained before post
mortem and organ or tissue examinations are done. It is not sufficient that you be
told about them and asked to sign a form stating that you have been told.
The Department of Health publishes booklets about post mortems which can be obtained
from DH Publications (section 27).
5 Post mortem examination on an adult, ordered by the coroner. Code 29769
A simple guide to post mortem examination procedure. Code 29770
A guide to post-mortem procedure involving a baby or child. Code 29768