FAQ - Coroner and Post Mortems

Q: What is a post-mortem and why is it carried out?
A: A post-mortem isalso known as an autopsy, is the examination of a body after death. The aim of a post-mortem is to determine the cause of death. Post-mortems are carried out by pathologists who are doctors who specialise in understanding the nature and causes of disease.
Q: Do family members have a say in whether post-mortems should be carried out?
A: Unfortunately families cannot stop a post-mortem if one has been ordered by the Coroner
Q: Is there an alternative to post-mortems?
A: Yes. Leicester now has an imaging system in place. In some circumstances and if it can provide a medical cause of death, a Post-Mortem Computed Tomography (PMCT) scan may be used instead of the invasive autopsy. The NHS offer a PMCT service for families. This option may be taken by families if they wish to avoid an invasive autopsy. This has the support of the Leicestershire HM Coroners. This service may not be suitable for all cases and the Pathologists performing the Post-Mortem investigation for the Coroner will review each case and advise whether PMCT is likely to be sufficient for the investigation.
Q: Is a PMCT service free?
A: No. Unfortunately the PMCT service provided by the NHS comes at a cost of £400 + VAT. For more information on the PMCT service please download the NHS CT Scan Booklet.
Q: Why does the Coroner take tissue samples or organs and what happens to them if the body has already been buried?
A: In around 20% of adult post-mortem examinations the cause of death is not immediately obvious. A diagnosis can only be made by retaining small tissue samples of relevant organs for more detailed examination. The Pathologist may need to retain a whole organ for a full assessment to allow an accurate diagnosis of the cause of death to be made. When this happens the organ or tissue is normally sent to a specialist unit. These full assessments often take weeks or even a few months to complete, depending on the extent of the investigations required. Once they are complete, the Pathologist will produce a report for the Coroner. When the investigation and reporting has been completed the Coroner will release the tissue samples and organs, if any were retained, back to the family of the deceased so that they can be reunited with the deceased.
Q:How long can a deceased body be kept for if there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the death?
A: This is dependent on the circumstances surroundings the death and is also dependent on the police investigation and whether or not suspects have been identified or charged.