UCSF Medical Center provides Autopsy Service as a courtesy to UCSF doctors and the families of deceased UCSF patients. An autopsy provides valuable medical information and often closure to a patient's family. Each year, our highly experienced pathologists perform approximately 180 autopsies covering a wide range of conditions. In each case, a precise diagnosis is made and the extent of disease, effect of treatment and cause of death documented.
Autopsies are typically performed within a few hours of a patient's death. A complete autopsy involves dissection of organs from all body cavities—chest, abdomen and cranium. In some cases, however, a patient's family may restrict the examination of a certain area. Incisions are never made on the face, hands or any other part of the body that may be visible at a funeral, so there is no evidence of prior autopsy, even with an open casket. Immediately following the autopsy, the body cavities are closed with stitches, and the designated mortuary is notified.
Preliminary autopsy diagnoses are available within two days of the procedure, and final autopsy reports are sent to the patient's referring doctor within one month. In most cases, the doctor discusses the final report with the family and interprets the autopsy findings. The legal next-of-kin is entitled to a copy of the final report.
Autopsies are performed only with signed consent of a patient's legal next-of-kin or designated durable power of attorney for healthcare. With proper consent, autopsies are performed at no charge on UCSF patients. UCSF patients with terminal illnesses who die outside of UCSF, such as at home or in hospice, also can be autopsied at no charge, but their family must pay for transport of the body to and from UCSF.
We do not perform autopsies on patients who have not been evaluated or treated for their primary health condition at UCSF. There is one exception to this rule: we do provide a brain-only autopsy for non-UCSF patients with dementia of unknown cause, providing that the patient's family pays for this special examination.
Patient Relations at UCSF Medical Center assists the doctor and family in completing the necessary autopsy paperwork.