What Happens in an Autopsy?

We've all seen autopsies performed on television shows. Are these depictions accurate? Tara is here to explain everything that happens during an autopsy.

Authorities have performed three autopsies on the body of Michael Brown in response to his controversial death in Ferguson, MO: The first was requested by the county medical examiner's office, the second was requested by Brown's family, and the third was requested by the U.S. Department of Justice. How (and why) would one body need to be autopsied more than once and what happens in an autopsy anyway? In this video, Tara takes us through the fascinating (albeit gruesome and morbid) procedure.

Performed by forensic pathologists, an autopsy is generally split into two main parts: the external examination (where the outside of the body is carefully studied) and the internal examination (where an incision is made from the shoulders to the groin and the major organs are examined). Depending on the nature of the death and what the pathologists are searching for, additional parts of the body may also be dissected and examined.

Individual organs are removed and weighed as certain diseases can cause significant changes in organ size. Samples of each organ may be removed and preserved in formaldehyde for up to a year in case pathologists need to study them later. Additional samples of blood, urine and other fluids are collected and sent to a toxicology lab if they are searching for evidence of drugs, alcohol or poison. Once all this is done, the organs get placed back in the body, which must then be stitched up so carefully that the family could hold an open-casket funeral (if they so choose).

In the case of Michael Brown, do the three autopsies performed on his body bring us any closer to definitive answers about his death? Unfortunately, no, because of the chances of a misinterpretation increase with each subsequent autopsy because the body becomes more mutilated with each procedure. Do you have any questions about autopsies that wasn?t answered in this video? Be sure to leave a comment below and we?ll try to answer them.

Read More:
More Autopsies on a Body Don?t Mean More Answers (New Scientist)
"The thing to keep in mind is that the investigation is still in its preliminary phase. Witness statements and details about the clothing aren't yet public."

What Exactly Do They Do During an Autopsy? (Live Science)
"What most of us know of autopsies comes from popular television crime dramas, with their super-sleuth forensics teams and equipment so cutting-edge it borders on science fiction."

What is an Autopsy? (Official State of Connecticut Website)
"The death certificate is not a complete document until the funeral director files it with the Registrar of Vital Statistics in the town in which the person has died (called the town of death)."

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