Autopsies in Australia: What Can They Reveal and Who Needs Them?

Thousands of autopsies are conducted in Australia each year, shedding light on the mysteries surrounding unexpected deaths. While most deaths do not require an autopsy, there are cases where it becomes a legal requirement. In 2022, out of the 190,775 deaths in Australia, approximately 15,000 bodies underwent examination by forensic pathologists.

An autopsy, derived from the Greek word meaning “to see for oneself,” serves as a crucial tool for pathologists to determine the cause of death, understand the physiological processes leading to demise, and sometimes uncover valuable insights about the circumstances surrounding the death.

During an autopsy, pathologists employ various techniques to thoroughly investigate the body. They may inspect injuries on the surface, open up specific areas of the body, or conduct full autopsies that involve examining all major organs. Contrary to popular media portrayals, the majority of autopsies deal with natural deaths rather than homicides.

The process begins with an examination of the body’s external features, such as skin color, injuries, and signs of disease. Then, the pathologist makes incisions, exposing the internal organs. This allows for a comprehensive assessment of the organs’ condition, identifying any signs of disease, injury, or abnormalities. In certain cases, an intact block of organs is removed, known as the Rokitansky technique, to facilitate a more detailed examination.

Autopsies play a crucial role in bringing closure and answers to grieving families. By providing a comprehensive understanding of what transpired within the deceased person’s body, pathologists can contribute valuable insights to both coroners and families seeking answers.


Q: What is an autopsy?
A: An autopsy is a postmortem examination performed by a pathologist to determine the cause of death and investigate the physiological processes leading to demise.

Q: How do autopsies help the living?
A: Autopsies provide valuable insights into the circumstances surrounding a person’s death, offering closure and answers to grieving families.

Q: Who needs an autopsy?
A: While most deaths do not require autopsies, there are cases where they become a legal requirement, such as in unexpected or suspicious deaths. Autopsies also occur when families request further investigation or when they are needed for medical research purposes.