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What Is The Difference Between A Death Certificate And An Autopsy?

Posted by Frank Spector | Nov 27, 2011 | 0 Comments

One of the hardest calls to our office is when a family member needs answers about whether the death of their loved one was preventable.  Many times, like this weekend, we are asked about whether an autopsy should be performed. The family may have a death certificate and the question is why should an autopsy be done.

Today's blog answers this question.

The death of a loved one is painful and many people tell us that they don't want to put their family member through an autopsy. So why do it?

Death Certificate

A death certificate is usually prepared by the doctor at the hospital.  The best way to describe it is an educated guess. It is usually based on what the symptoms were before death.  There is no examination of the body parts at all.  Many times we find that the death certificate does not accurately describe the cause of death.


An autopsy is performed by medical doctors called medical examiners.  I apologize if the following description is graphic but an autopsy involves an examination of all the internal body parts like the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys,bladder etc.  These doctors piece together the facts of what happened at the hospital along with the findings on the autopsy to give an opinion as to the cause of death.

For us to be able to proceed with a wrongful death case, an autopsy is usually necessary.

Let me give you 2 examples

In a case where it is believed someone died from a blood clot in the hospital, an autopsy of the lungs can actually show the clot. Also, based on an examination of the clot, a doctor can determine how long it had been there. This can be important if the hospital claims that the clot was there even before the patient came to the hospital.

Another example is in a heart attack case. An autopsy of the heart can show that the heart was healthy but that the arteries leading to the heart were clogged. This can be important to prove that a stent would have opened up the clogged artery and the patient would not have died.

The decision to have an autopsy is not a pleasant one and it has to be made quickly before funeral arrangements are made. But in order to proceed with a case, an autopsy should be done in most cases. Death certificates, more often than not, are not helpful.

For any questions about this or any other topic of medical malpractice or car and truck accidents, we urge you to call us tollfree anytime at 1-800-299-HURT. Or reach out to us by email at [email protected] or fill out and send us your contact information on the contact form here or on any page on the website.

About the Author

Frank Spector

Welcome to my profile page. Choosing a lawyer is a big decision. Here is some information so you can get to know me better. I am the third generation of lawyers in my family. I saw how lawyers can help people get justice for their injuries. So for over 30 years, I have helped those injured by m...


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