The post mortem or autopsy

A post mortem (or autopsy) is usually required after a suicide to find out, or confirm, the cause of death. This is a surgical examination of the body by a pathologist.

You may be able to object to the post mortem, or to request a limited examination. This can include:

  • specifying not to touch the head

  • asking to have no body parts removed, or

  • asking for an external examination only.

If you want to object to the post mortem, you need to let the Coroner know as soon as possible. To read more about this process, visit the Coroner’s website.

The pathologist may have to take body tissue samples as part of the autopsy process. If this happens, you will be told what samples have been kept, and whether testing will destroy them. You will also be given information on how to request the return of body tissue samples, if there are any left to return. If you do request the return of body tissue samples, you will need to decide what to do with these. For example, you may choose to have them buried or cremated.

The Coroner recognises that requiring an autopsy may cause distress for families. They will try to take into account the family or whānau’s cultural needs and concerns. Delays will always be kept to a minimum.

The immediate family or whānau is told about the results of the post mortem, and can request a free copy of the report to be sent to them. The information in this report is very detailed and may be upsetting. You might like to have someone else present to support you when reading it.