A post mortem (or autopsy) is a surgical examination of the body by a pathologist and is usually required after a suicide to find out, or confirm, the cause of death.
The pathologist may have to take body tissue samples as part of the post mortem (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 immediate family or whānau will be provided with the results of the post mortem, and can request a free copy of the report to be sent to them. This report usually arrives within the first few weeks or months following the death.
The information in this report contains medical language. It is very detailed and may be upsetting. You might like to have someone else with you to support you when reading it. Or, you may like to visit your GP and ask if they can assist you in reading the report and explain any medical terminology it may include.
Post mortem (or autopsy) and whānau rights
You may be able to object to the post mortem, or 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. You need to object within 24 hours from when the coroner decides to have the post mortem. So if you don’t want a post mortem, please tell the duty coroner’s office as soon as you can by phoning 0800 266 800.
If the Coroner still wants to go ahead with the post mortem, the coroner has to notify the whānau/family of this intention. The whānau/family then has 48 hours to take their objection to the High Court. The High Court has to deal with the objection urgently.
You’ll need a lawyer to file an objection in the High Court. Legal aid is available for this. To read more about this process, visit the Coroner’s website.