How To Get An Autopsy Report

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

When someone dies due to mysterious circumstances, an autopsy report may be conducted to determine the "cause of death." If you are a close family member, you might be interested in receiving this report for genealogy purposes. Here is how to get an autopsy report.

"What is an Autopsy Report?"

An autopsy (also referred to as necropsy or post-mortem examination) is a surgical procedure aiming to find the cause of death. This can be for a legal purpose or for the general advancement of the medical science. An autopsy can either be external or internal; internal autopsies require the permission of the next-of-kin.

If a death was expected or due to an obvious cause, an autopsy is usually not performed. Most of these post-mortem examinations are made because the death was sudden and unexpected. A family member, police official or a grand jury may authorize the autopsy.

A forensic autopsy allows for five causes (or classifications) on the death certificate: 1) natural, 2) accident, 3) homicide, 4) suicide or 5) undetermined. The majority of states require the county or state medical examiner to complete an autopsy report along with video-taping the examinations.

"How Does Family Member Get Autopsy Report?"

The autopsy report is considered to be a confidential health record. If you are a close family member to the deceased, you might be able to get your own copy of the autopsy report for your genealogy records.

Each state has its own rules with either the county or state government being in control of the autopsy report. If you want an autopsy report, note the county where the individual lived and died. You can start by looking up the county or state medical examiner's office on the Internet. Write down its physical and mailing address.

Usually you can download the form from the government website. You must write a formal request for the autopsy report. List the name of the deceased, county of death, your relationship and your mailing address. Notarize the document. You might want to include a phone number or email address where you can be contacted. There might be a fee also.

If you are denied the autopsy report, you can always contact a lawyer. Your attorney will need to demonstrate why you should be given access to this confidential record.

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