Partial Autopsy

Why choose a partial autopsy:  A partial autopsy helps when you wish to evaluate a specific area of the body or when the kind of question you have can be answered by looking at a specific part of the body. Examples of partial autopsies include a “chest only” or “brain only” autopsy; an evaluation of a specific organ; or a biopsy.

Please note: a partial autopsy cannot definitely determine the cause of death. Only a complete autopsy can definitively determine the cause of the death.


What is done: A partial autopsy consists of a complete evaluation of

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

Was there a heart attack?

If you 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). Back to top of page.


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 and the lining around them can be evaluated.  You may already know the cause of death.  In this case, requesting a “chest only” autopsy may be a good fit for you to learn more specifically about asbestosis. Back to top of page.


Was there Alzheimer’s disease? 

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


Was the mass cancer?

If your loved one had a mass that was thought to be cancer — but never had a biopsy or other tissue diagnosis — you may wish to request a “directed biopsy” of the mass. We will retrieve the tissue for diagnosis. We can often use an incision that is much smaller than that used during a routine autopsy. You may feel reassured to know whether or not the mass was cancer. In addition, if there is a concern about cancer running in the family, you and your family may find it helpful to know the exact type of cancer. Back to top of page.


Was the foot infected?  Was there liver disease?  

Any area of the body can be evaluated through a partial autopsy. If you have a specific question (for example, about a foot ulcer or a back surgery or liver disease) you can request that the specific area be assessed. Back to top of page.


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. 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 answer your questions. Talk to the Autopsy Center about your concerns. Back to top of page.

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.

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