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The Autopsy Service provides both morgue and autopsy services to all patients who pass away at Yale New Haven Hospital. The morgue is responsible for processing the paperwork for all deceased patients, including death certificates and autopsy consents. Performing autopsies is a service provided by Yale New Haven Hospitalat no cost to the patient’s family.

Our Approach

Any questions related to the process of releasing a patient to a funeral home, requesting an autopsy, or obtaining a copy of the autopsy report should be directed to the Autopsy Service. Please note that the Autopsy Service is bound by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) regulations, and will not be able to provide medical history or answer questions regarding patient status.

The Autopsy Service can answer questions pertaining to the process of having a loved one released to a funeral home or having an autopsy performed, but may direct the family to speak with a funeral director or a different hospital department based on their questions. Our team has a combined 75 years of experience to guide people through this difficult time.

To learn more about details and paperwork required for an autopsy, pleasevisit the Yale Pathology website.

An autopsy, also known as a postmortem examination, is a specialized surgical procedure used to determine the cause and manner of death. The cause of death is the medical reason explaining why a patient passed. The manner of death is the circumstances surrounding the death. Connecticut recognizes the following manners of death: natural, accident, homicide, suicide, and unknown. Only deaths due to natural causes are examined at Yale New Haven Hospital. All other manners of death are referred to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) for further investigation.

Autopsies continually advance our understanding of disease. What we learn from autopsies allows clinicians to better understand disease processes, accurately diagnose diseases, improve therapy, and potentially aid other patients who are currently suffering from a similar disease. There are many reasons why families choose an autopsy.

No. Even a complete autopsy in no way disfigures the body, and the deceased can still be viewed in an open casket. In addition, as autopsies are performed seven days a week, 365 days a year, there is generally no need to delay or alter funeral arrangements. The hospital staff will work with the funeral director of your choice to be sure the body is available on time.

An autopsy, derived from a Greek word meaning "seeing for oneself," is a careful medical examination of the body and its organs by a physician specializing in the study of human diseases. Surgical techniques are used to remove and examine each organ, and tissue is selected for microscopic examination or other special tests as needed. Each procedure is conducted with the utmost skill, respect, and professionalism.

Yes. We will honor any restrictions you wish to make. It is not uncommon, for example, for the family to request that the autopsy examination not include examination of the brain. Of course, many diseases affect multiple organs and tissues, and we prefer to perform as complete an examination as possible so the most information will be obtained.

Yes. Of course, any organs that have been donated cannot be evaluated at the time of the autopsy, but much can still be learned from the organs that remain. We recognize the importance of evaluating the death of each patient to the fullest extent possible. Therefore, we will perform an autopsy free of charge on anyone who has ever been a patient of the hospital. This is true even if the patient dies outside of the hospital, such as in a nursing facility or at home.

Yes. We provide a full range of consultation services for other hospitals and members of the community. This ranges from complete autopsies to examination of individual organs to review of slides from an autopsy performed at another institution. However, if the patient was never treated at Yale, we have to charge a fee to cover our expenses in processing the case.

Many people believe that autopsies should only be performed when there is uncertainty as to the cause of death. Although this is certainly a valid reason for an autopsy, it is not the only one. The purpose of an autopsy is to thoroughly evaluate the presence and extent of human disease in patients, and to evaluate the effectiveness of therapeutic procedures for the benefit of patient families, our staff, and the future practice of medicine. The personnel involved in the autopsy are able to see the physical manifestations of human disease during the postmortem examination.

An autopsy can be reassuring for the family. As part of the autopsy consent process, the family has the option to place some limitations on both the retention of organs and the extent of the autopsy. Please note that any limitations may compromise the diagnostic value of the autopsy, or may limit the usefulness of the autopsy for education, quality improvement, or research purposes. These items are discussed below.

Diagnostic Purposes:

Autopsies can help a family learn more information about the disease processes that caused a patient’s death. For example, an autopsy could identify an unknown primary cancer, or it can allow doctors to perform examinations that were not feasible when the patient was alive. An autopsy offers clinicians the best opportunity to obtain a more complete understanding of why the patient passed.

Educational Purposes:

Autopsies provide an opportunity for clinicians, residents, medical students, pathologists’ assistant students, forensic science interns, and our staff to learn more about various disease processes and how they manifest in the body. Tissue may be used for the Yale School of Medicine to further the education of students. In addition, some cases are used in various presentations to help others understand rare and complicated cases. All educational tissue procured from autopsies is utilized in accordance with HIPAA privacy laws.

Quality Assurance:

The Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO) requires that the results of autopsies be incorporated into the quality assurance program of the hospital. Autopsy clarification/discrepancy information is recorded to document instances in which the autopsy examination added to, clarified, or altered the clinical understanding of the case.

Research Purposes:

Yale New Haven Hospital supports a variety of ongoing research projects. The Tissue Procurement team ensures that all protocols are vetted, and are responsible for acquiring the necessary tissues for these projects. Occasionally, the autopsy is limited to recovery of tissue for a particular program. If the clinician’s contact information is included on the consent, the autopsy staff can coordinate with the clinical team to ensure proper recovery and preservation of the tissue.

Technical Only:

A technical-only autopsy is done at the exclusion of diagnostic, education, quality improvement, and research purposes. There are a variety of reasons that the autopsy would be considered a technical-only autopsy. Removal of hardware to be sent back to the manufacturer for testing, or removal of brain or other tissue to be sent out to another facility are examples of what is considered a technical-only autopsy.

Religious Considerations:

Autopsies have been performed on individuals of all religious backgrounds, and many major religions leave this decision to the next of kin. However, loved ones may wish to consult with their priest, minister, rabbi, or other religious leader before proceeding.