The exhumation and postmortem examination of a corpse may be performed if certain indications are present. Although distasteful this may be necessary in certain circumstances. For example, in the Shipman case from England (where a general practitioner murdered over 200 patients) exhumation was essential in determining the extent of the murders, with the investigation limited because many of the patients had been cremated.


Exhumation refers to retrieval of a corpse legally buried in a cemetery (in a grave, crypt or other internment).


Indications for exhuming and examining a corpse may include:

(1) To answer questions not known at the time of burial based on new evidence or allegations as to the cause of death.

(2) To perform an autopsy that was either not done or done inadequately.

(3) To positively identify remains.

(4) To attempt retrieval of essential evidence buried with the body.


The request for exhumation requires demonstration that the benefits significantly outweigh the negative aspects. Often permission of surviving family members is an important determinant in reaching a decision.


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