When someone dies it can be a distressing and confusing time for family members. In some circumstances, a post-mortem examination may be required or requested. This is an examination of a body after death and during this examination organs and tissue samples may need to be removed for investigation. After the post mortem-examination decisions will need to be made about what should happen to the removed organs and tissue samples.
This information has been provided to support those who are bereaved and are affected by a post-mortem examination. It may also be useful for professionals who work with the bereaved or seek consent for post-mortem examinations. If a post-mortem examination is required or requested then a discussion should take place between you and a professional from the hospital or the coroner’s service.
This discussion should cover what you can expect, what will happen and what your rights are. It should also provide you with information to help you make decisions about what happens to organs and tissue samples that may need to be removed for investigation. During a difficult time, you may wish to take this information away with you to read in your own time and to refer back to during or after your discussions. This information takes the form of questions and answers and can be used in full or in part, as required. It applies in England and Wales. It does not apply in Northern Ireland or in Scotland. See Further information and support section for more details.
More information on post mortems can be found in our in-depth FAQs
The role of the coroner
Coroners are independent judicial officers, appointed and paid for by local authorities, who are responsible for investigating violent, unnatural or sudden deaths of unknown cause.
Unnatural or sudden deaths include:
Death after accident or injury.
Death following an industrial disease.
Death during a surgical operation.
Death before recovery from an anaesthetic.
Deaths which are violent or unnatural for example, suicide, accident, or drug or alcohol overdose.
Deaths which are sudden and unexplained for instance, a sudden infant death (cot death).
In addition to this, if the deceased was not seen by the doctor during the 14 days before the death, the death must be reported to the coroner.
Anyone who is concerned about the cause of a death can inform a coroner about it, but in most cases a death will be reported to the coroner by a doctor or the police.
Coroners' post-mortem examinations are carried out by pathologists under the authority of the coroner. Although the HTA does not regulate coroners, all post-mortem examinations - including those authorised by a coroner - must be carried out on premises licensed by the HTA.
Information about how the work of coroners links to the HTA is provided in our coroners' FAQs and within our codes of practice on post-mortem examination and disposal.
Although the HTA's regulatory remit does not extend to coroners, post-mortem examinations authorised by a coroner must be carried out on premises licensed by the HTA. Additionally, tissue removed during coroners' post-mortem examinations must be stored on premises licensed by the HTA, unless it has been referred for specialist analysis and / or examination, and will be retuned to licensed premises for continued storage or use for scheduled purposes.
If you have specific questions about coroners and their role in post mortems, you can find the answer in our coroner FAQs
Perinatal post mortem
A post mortem examination of a baby’s body and of the placenta could help to find out why a baby has died. A post mortem may also discover whether there was a problem that could affect future pregnancies.
For more information about making an informed choice, Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity provides information for parents. Read more on the Sands website.