Autopsy Information

What determines whether or not an autopsy is necessary?

The Medical Examiner’s Office will consider the facts of each case individually, and determine what level of investigation/examination is necessary to determine the cause and manner of death and to clarify the circumstances surrounding the death. Autopsies are routinely performed in all non-natural deaths (homicide, suicide, accidents and undetermined), in apparent natural deaths where the cause is unclear, and in cases where appropriate toxicology specimens must be collected.

What is an autopsy? Will it affect the funeral arrangements?

An autopsy is a medical examination of a deceased person, and consists of two parts: an external examination and an internal examination. During the external examination, the body is first examined as received (including any clothing present), again after it is unclothed, and yet again after being cleaned up. Throughout the examination process, the findings (traumatic injuries, disease states, etc.)are documented. Following the external examination, the body is then examined internally, with all organs and tissues examined for the presence of injuries and pre-existing natural disease.

In the course of an autopsy, samples of various organs, tissues and body fluids are retained for additional studies, if warranted. These studies include toxicology (testing for drugs, etc.), microscopic examination and microbiology (bacterial, viral, or fungal cultures). In addition, other items of evidence may be collected, such as trace evidence, bullets, knife blades, ligatures, hair, fingernail clippings, sexual assault swabs, etc.

The performance of an autopsy should NOT affect funeral arrangements. The incisions made during autopsy are easily concealed by a competent funeral director and are not visible during the funeral visitation. The WCMEO makes all possible efforts not to impede the plans of the decedent’s family. Please be aware that exceptions do exist however, notably in cases in which the death is the result of homicide/suspicious circumstances, or in cases in which the MEO is not certain of the decedent’s identity (due to decomposition or extensive injuries, for example).

Will I have to pay for an autopsy?

No. There is no charge to the family for an autopsy on a death which falls under the legal jurisdiction of the Winnebago County Medical Examiner's Office.

Will the WCMEO perform an autopsy on a Winnebago County death which does not fall within its legal jurisdiction (a "private" autopsy)?

As this is a county office, funded by tax dollars, the performance of autopsies on Winnebago County deaths is restricted to those which fall within our legal jurisdiction. In other words, the WCMEO is not mandated to perform an autopsy on any WCMEO County death---only on those over which jurisdiction is assumed.  The office will provide next-of-kin with contact numbers for pathologists known to perform private autopsies.  Be aware that the cost of a private autopsy is the financial responsibility of the legal next-of-kin.