State laws specify criteria for when a postmortem examination is to be done to establish the cause of death for medicolegal reasons.


Determination of Need for Autopsy


An autopsy is a compelling public necessity if:

(1) There is a need to conduct an investigation by law enforcement officers of a homicide or suspected homicide, or any other criminal investigation.

(2) It is necessary to establish the cause of the deceased person's death for the purpose of protecting against an immediate or substantial threat to the public health.


Manner of Death

Specific Type

by criminal or violent means


by causality

operative death


emergency room death


industrial accident


vehicular accident



by suicide


suddenly and in apparent health (unexpected and unexplained)

sudden death


unexpected death


postpartum death


all infants and children under 2 years of age

any suspicious or unusual manner

drug overdosage


In situations where the performance of a post-mortem examination is contrary to a deceased person's religious beliefs or may involve a delay in burial contrary to that person's religious beliefs, the coroner may elect defer autopsy unless there is compelling public necessity.

(1) If there is disagreement about whether an autopsy is contrary to the deceased person's religious beliefs, the coroner will consider only the information provided by the person of highest priority for delivery of consent (see next section).


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