Autopsy Service

UCSF Medical Center performs autopsies 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.

Our highly experienced pathologists perform about 180 autopsies every year, covering a wide range of conditions. In each case, they make a precise diagnosis and document the extent of disease, effect of treatment and cause of death.

Arrangements and Cost

UCSF performs autopsies only if we've received signed consent from the patient's legal next of kin or designated durable power of attorney for health care. Our Patient Relations office helps doctors and families complete the necessary paperwork.

There's no charge for autopsies of patients who die in UCSF's Parnassus, Mission Bay or Mount Zion hospitals.

Autopsies of UCSF patients with terminal illnesses who die outside of UCSF (such as at home or in hospice) are also done free of charge, but their family must pay for transport of the body to UCSF. The process for these autopsies is also somewhat different in these ways:

  • The Medical Examiner has to release the case before the autopsy can be performed.
  • The Autopsy Service director or attending pathologist must accept the case before transport.
  • The paperwork is handled by the Autopsy Service directly.

We do not perform autopsies on patients who were not evaluated or treated for their primary health condition at UCSF.

What Happens in an Autopsy

A complete autopsy involves dissection of organs from all body cavities – the chest, abdomen and cranium. In some cases, however, the patient's family asks that it be limited to a certain area of concern. Pathologists preserve and store the dissected organs as long as they're needed for study, and eventually they're cremated.

Autopsy incisions are never made on the face, hands or any other part of the body that might be visible at a funeral, so there's no evidence of the autopsy, even with an open casket. Immediately following the autopsy, the body cavities are closed with stitches, and we notify the designated mortuary.

Receiving the Autopsy Results

Autopsies are usually performed within one business day after we receive written consent. Pathologists send a final report of their findings to the patient's referring doctor within one month of the procedure. In most cases, the doctor discusses the final report with the family and interprets the autopsy findings. The legal next-of-kin can also request a copy of the final report from UCSF Medical Records.

Related Information

How to Reach Us

Autopsy Service
(415) 353-1629

Patient Services