What is done:  Partial autopsies consist of a complete evaluation of

  • the outside of the body
  • any specific area or areas of the body the family requests

Why choose a partial autopsy:  A partial autopsy helps when the family has specific requests or wishes to evaluate a specific area.  For example, you can request a “chest only” or “brain only” autopsy; or an evaluation of a specific organ.

See which of these questions fit for you:

Was there a heart attack?

Was there asbestosis?

Was there Alzheimer’s disease?

Was the foot infected?

Was there liver disease?

My loved one complained of chest pain just before he died.   What caused that?

If you have single questions such as these, a partial autopsy may be right for you.  If you have more than one question, you may want to consider complete autopsy.

Also, please note, that a partial autopsy cannot definitely determine the cause of death.  Only a complete autopsy can definitively determine the cause of the death.




Was there a heart attack?

If you just need to know if your loved one had a heart attack, you may request a “chest only” autopsy to evaluate the heart.   The “chest only” autopsy will evaluate the organs of the chest:  the heart, blood vessel of the chest, and lungs.   This will tell you if there was a serious problem in the heart (for example, heart attack) or lungs (for example, clot to the lungs).  But a partial autopsy will not be able to definitively determine the cause of death.  This is because your loved may have had serious heart disease, but could have died from a stroke in the brain.  You would never know unless you also looked in the brain.  A partial autopsy (“chest only”) could answer certain questions, but could not give you a definite cause of death.


Was there asbestosis? 

Asbestosis affects the lungs.  If this is your question, you may wish to request a “chest only” autopsy.  This way the lungs can be evaluated.  You may not be interested in (or already know) the cause of death.  In this case, requesting a “chest only” autopsy may be a good fit for you.


Was there Alzheimer’s disease? 

If you have a question about Alzheimer’s disease and have no other medical questions, a “brain only” autopsy may be a fit for you.  The “brain only” autopsy will assess for Alzheimer’s disease as well as strokes and some other diseases of the brain.  A brain only autopsy will not provide you with the cause of death – just an evaluation of the brain.


Was the foot infected?  Was there liver disease?  

Any area of the body can be evaluated – on the outside or inside of the body.  If you have a specific question (for example, about a foot ulcer; or a back surgery; or hand surgery; or liver disease; and so on) you can request that this specific area be assessed.  Please be aware that such an assessment will not provide the cause of death, but just an evaluation of the one area you request.


My loved one complained of chest pain.  What caused this? 

Sometimes you may have information that gives you some idea what caused the death.  This may be because you were with the loved one when he or she died; or because you are aware of the medical history.  Especially if you are not thinking of litigation, it may be that a partial autopsy will help satisfy your need.  For example, if your loved one had chest pain and there was a history of heart disease, you may have a strong suspicion of a heart attack.  A partial autopsy (“chest only”) may be enough for you.  But again, please be aware, that only a complete autopsy can give a cause of death.  Talk to the Autopsy Center about your concerns.


If you have a question relating to a specific part of the body, requesting a partial autopsy may be the right choice for you. Please call us at 1-855-8-AUTOPSY.