Autopsy Pathology Service
The autopsy is a medical procedure carried out by pathologists to learn more for the benefit of future patients and for the benefit of family members and other loved ones.
The information obtained from an autopsy can help family members and friends better understand the entire disease process leading up to death and can be of great value in lessening the pain and the duration of the grieving period. Although modern medical technology usually establishes the principal diagnosis before death, there are many processes that may have contributed to a patient's illness that can only be discovered at autopsy. The physicians who cared for the dying patient learn much about the illness itself and about the effectiveness of treatments, but there are often unsuspected findings that can be of great value.
The autopsy room at Cedars-Sinai bears the Latin inscription hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succerere - this is the place where death succeeds in giving to the living. Originally adorning the walls in the great anatomic amphitheater at the University of Bologna five centuries ago, this quotation exemplifies the purpose of the autopsy.
The pathologist performing the autopsy is a medical doctor specially trained to recognize the anatomic and biochemical changes brought about by disease. The autopsy is an orderly, comprehensive examination performed in a special room not unlike a surgical operating room, usually taking from two to four hours. The autopsy does not in any way affect funeral arrangements. Reports of findings are promptly submitted to the treating physicians.
An elderly man had a cancer that had been unequivocally diagnosed before death, but in spite of receiving the best of care, the patient died of his disease. At autopsy he was found to have, in addition to the cancer, an inherited but easily treated metabolic disease. His family was counseled, and studies were carried out to determine if any of the surviving members had the same disease. In other instances, autopsy findings have led to changes in the way in which some treatments are administered, with almost immediate benefit for other patients.
An informational booklet, When you are asked for permission for the performance of an autopsy... can be obtained by patients and family members from the nursing staff. This three-page pamphlet provides additional valuable information about the autopsy and its many advantages and explains the general procedure.
The autopsy is performed with care for the deceased, with an air of dignity and with complete respect for the survivors' wishes. After the performance of the autopsy selected tissues are studied with the microscope, often utilizing highly sophisticated techniques in order to develop as precise an evaluation of the findings as possible.
The autopsy is an indispensable component of the medical care of the patient who has died. There is no better way to evaluate the nature of a fatal illness or the effectiveness of procedures and treatments. Because of its great importance, there is no charge for the performance of an autopsy on a patient who has been cared for at Cedars-Sinai, despite the fact that it is a relatively expensive procedure to carry out. In many ways the autopsy is a way for the patient who has died to continue to contribute to society.