The Autopsy Service performs autopsies for Froedtert Hospital, Community Memorial Hospital, and St. Joseph’s Hospital on expired patients at the request of next-of-kin. The Autopsy Service also accepts outside cases for autopsy at the discretion of the Autopsy Director, Dr. Elizabeth J. Cochran. Approximately 160 cases are performed each year.
Pathology residents spend three months on the autopsy service with Dr. Cochran throughout their first year and learn how to perform an autopsy and generate an autopsy report. They also participate in clinical-pathologic teaching conferences with the department of Medicine.
Frequently Asked Questions
An autopsy is also known as a post-mortem examination and is a detailed examination of the body after death to evaluate the nature and extent of disease and the cause and manner of death.
The procedure is performed only with the consent of the next-of-kin and may be a complete examination of the body (all organs) or limited to those of specific interest. A complete autopsy includes removal and dissection of the organs in the neck, thorax, abdominal cavity, including the pelvis, and the brain. This is followed by a microscopic examination and a final report correlating the clinical course with the gross and microscopic findings.
Autopsies have many benefits. Families and physicians might want to consider an autopsy for the following reasons:
- to help determine the cause of death, to provide information about the illness or disease that may be important for the health of surviving family members
- to help the medical staff or family to learn more about the expired patient’s illness or disease
This may include information about the effectiveness of diagnostic procedures and therapy; thereby also aiding in quality assurance and improvement for the hospital.
The autopsy also helps in the education of doctors in training and may provide tissue for research purposes, which may benefit others with similar diseases.
Autopsies also may provide reassurance and information for families about their loved one’s illness and decrease worry that something more could have been done, especially in sudden deaths.
The body is treated respectfully and with dignity at all times during the autopsy procedure. There is no charge to the family for autopsies performed on patients of Froedtert Hospital (FH) and Community Memorial Hospital (CMH) if the patient was under the care or attended by an FH or CMH attending at the time of their death. Autopsy is only performed only with permission of the deceased person’s legal next-of-kin. All the organs and systems may be examined, or the procedure may be limited to certain ones depending on the needs and wishes of the family. We recommend a complete autopsy be performed to ensure that all possible questions have the best chance of being answered.
The initial part of an autopsy (gross examination of organs) is completed within approximately four hours and so delays in funeral arrangements do not occur. There is no disfigurement of the body and viewing of the body and a timely funeral are still possible. Organ, tissue, and eye donation are still possible.
The Final Autopsy Report is completed within three (3) months of the autopsy date, in most cases, and incorporates the findings after microscopic examination of the organs.
Autopsy reports are released only to the next-of-kin and may be requested from the Department of Health Information Management (HIM) by filling out an authorization form.