“The Art of the Autopsy” | Types, Methods and Examples

“The Art of the Autopsy” | Types, Methods,

and Examples

Autopsy definition:

Autopsy meaning: It is the examination of a dead body to determine the cause of death. Autopsies are performed for both legal and medical purposes. A coroner may preside over an autopsy in cases of suspicious deaths, while doctors usually perform autopsies on patients who have died from natural causes or accidents.

There are two types of autopsies: conventional autopsies and virtual autopsies, which are more common in recent years because of new technologies that allow them to be performed without cutting open the body. This involves using surgical instruments on a corpse to examine internal organs before deductions about how it died.

Types of Autopsy:

There are two kinds of autopsy:

  1. Conventional Autopsy
  2. Virtual Autopsy

Conventional Autopsy:

It is a post-mortem examination of the body to determine the cause and manner of death. When there are no signs of illness or injury, it may hold an inquest at which extensive evidence from persons who have been in contact with the deceased might provide clues about how they died. If there is evidence of illness or injury, the coroner may keep some tissue samples for analysis by an autopsy pathologist.

Conventional Autopsies are used when a person dies without medical issue in England and Wales under s16 (e) Coroners Act 1988. We can also carry conventional autopsies out at the request of friends or relatives of the deceased.

There are two types of conventional autopsy:

External Autopsy

It examines a body by dissection, which involves opening up the body to look at organs and tissues. This type can be used in cases where visible signs on skin or other parts of the body indicate how someone died. These include wounds of gunshots or stab wounds, burns, or any other injuries.

Internal Autopsy

It is the examination of organs and tissues removed from the body during surgery. This type is used to look for diseases or other abnormalities that may have caused death. Internal autopsies can be done on any part of the body but are most commonly done on the brain, heart, lungs, and liver.

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Virtual Autopsy

It is a post-mortem examination that uses medical imaging techniques instead of traditional surgery to examine the body. The term “virtual” means that the images are not obtained by physically cutting into the body; instead, they are created through computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET).

Virtual autopsies are often used when the body is too damaged or decomposed and do not allow a traditional autopsy. Such as in cases of suspected homicide or suicide. They can also help identify hidden injuries, such as those caused by child abuse. Virtual autopsies have been used to determine the cause of death in several high-profile cases, including that of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

Autopsy Methods:

Several methods can perform an autopsy:

Visual Examination

Visual Examination, which is simply looking at the body and its organs to see if there are any visible clues as to how the person died; Gross Dissection, which is the dissection of all organs from the body to examine them more closely; Microscopic Examination, which is the examination of tissues under a microscope to look for traces of diseases or other abnormalities that may have caused death.

Knife and Forceps

Nowadays, an Autopsy is performed by Knife and Forceps and Y-incision method. Autopsies by Knife and Forceps method involve using a large knife to cut through the rib cage and expose all internal organs, which are then removed and examined more closely. The final step in this is to cut the body in half using a large pair of forceps. This is done by placing the forceps on the bone at one end of the incision and then pulling them towards you, which will cause the bone to break. Forensic officers use an Autopsy by Knife and Forceps when a Y-incision would not work because of decomposition or body damage.

Autopsies by Oblique Incisions method involve making cuts into the skin on the side of the body and pulling it up to look for evidence. Autopsies by Dissecting Method involve removing all organs from a body to examine them more closely.


The most common way to conduct an autopsy is called the Y-incision, which involves splitting down the center of the body from head to crotch. The incisions are made by cutting through both sides of the skin and muscle before reaching the bone. An electric saw is used for this purpose to make sure that all the surrounding tissue has been cut.

The Y-incision is made on the front of the body, and then two parallel cuts are made from each end of it to meet in the middle at a point between both sides of the crotch. This creates an upside-down “Y” shape. The arms and legs are pulled away from one another to separate enough to allow the medical examiner complete access.

The Y-incision is the most common one, as it provides for an examiner to examine and remove organs from inside of the body. In addition, it can also be done with the help of toxicology tests performed on blood samples taken during the autopsy process, so that identification becomes easy.

Importance of Autopsies

  1. Autopsies play an essential role in determining the cause of death. Most times, they are the only way to determine what happened.
  2. This is especially true with no apparent injury or death from disease. They can also identify hidden damages that child abuse has caused or prove that a crime occurred.
  3. Autopsies are used in all cases, from murder and suicide to accidents or natural causes.
  4. Since autopsies provide such valuable information, they are often used in criminal trials as evidence. Many times, it is the only evidence that is available.
  5. This is especially true in cases with no eyewitness, and the body has been badly damaged or destroyed.
  6. Autopsies can also be used to show how a person died.