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Consent for Autopsies

Susan Schmidt, JD
JAMA. 1983;250(9):1161-1164. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03340090021012.
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DIFFERENT laws apply to the granting of permission to perform an autopsy, depending on whether authorization is ordered primarily for legal purposes or requested for medical purposes. Generally, the surviving spouse or next of kin of the deceased can authorize or prohibit an autopsy. This article explores the consent issues, emphasizing the variations among the applicable state laws. The various autopsy laws are analyzed and compared.

MEDICAL AUTOPSIES BY CONSENT  Proper authorization for a nonofficial autopsy must be obtained to avoid possible civil or criminal liability of the physician performing the autopsy. A legal action for damages against a physician, coroner, or medical examiner can arise when the autopsy has not been consented to by the proper party, unless otherwise provided by law. In general, the person with the right or duty to dispose of the body is entitled to possession and receipt of the body without delay, in the


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