Coroners Court New South Wales

Post mortem

A post mortem (or autopsy) is ordered by the Coroner to ensure that he or she can deliver a balanced, accurate finding regarding the cause of death. A post mortem is a detailed examination of the body by a doctor who has special training and experience in this field, called a forensic pathologist.

During the post-mortem examination, a specialist forensic pathologist examines the deceased person to determine the presence, nature and extent of any disease or damage. The majority of post-mortem examination procedures ordered by the Coroner are minimally invasive. However, in some cases, an examination of internal organs is required. This is similar to a surgical operation.

Small samples of tissue are taken from individual organs and are usually retained forever.  The reason for keeping the samples is to ensure that any questions that may arise months, or years after death, can be answered by further examination, perhaps by new techniques that were not available at the time of the initial post mortem examination.

In some cases, whole organs may have to be retained for an extended period of time to detect finer details of disease or damage. This is especially true of parts of the nervous system such as the brain. Organ retention tends to occur when the initial post mortem examination does not provide adequate information or where the cause of death can only be verified following further microscopic study of the organs. During the post mortem exam, the forensic pathologist will determine whether these tests are required.

Last updated:

11 May 2023

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