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Office of the Medical Examiner
850 R.S. Gass Boulevard

Nashville 37216-2640
Phone: (615) 743-1800
Fax: (615) 743-1890



Private or family requested autopsies

Private or family requested autopsies may be obtained for decedents who would not otherwise require autopsy by statute. Although families may request an autopsy for many reasons, some of the most common circumstances include:

  • To better understand the natural disease or disease process that caused death

  • To provide information about possible inherited or genetic diseases, allowing other family members to seek testing and/or treatment

  • To investigate possible medical treatment complications

  • To assist in civil proceedings regarding the death


Private autopsies may only be ordered by the legal next-of-kin or by other individual with the appropriate legal authority to do so. According to family request, the autopsy examination may include complete examination of all organ systems or may be limited to a specific area of concern.

A completed and signed authorization for autopsy with full payment must be received prior to the remains being transported to our facility for examination. Ancillary studies including toxicology and histology may be performed at the discretion of the consulting forensic pathologist. A final autopsy report typically takes several weeks to complete. All autopsies are performed by experienced forensic pathologists who are either board certified or board eligible by the American Board of Pathology.

An autopsy will not preclude viewing of decedent’s remains after preparation by a funeral director. In most circumstances, the autopsy procedure can be completed and the decedent released to the funeral home for final disposition within 24 hours.

Hospital Autopsies

Family members and/or hospital staff may feel postmortem examination is necessary when a patient dies while in the care of a hospital or other medical facility. If the hospital does not offer autopsy services, or if the family desires the examination be performed by a third party, Forensic Medical provides professional autopsy services by experienced forensic pathologists.

Hospital ordered autopsies require the following:

  • Autopsy authorization signed by the legal next-of-kin, hospital administrator, and a witness.

  • The family’s desire regarding extent of the examination (limited to a specific anatomic area of interest or complete postmortem examination.)

  • The consulting forensic pathologist must have access to the decedent’s medical records in order to render accurate and fully informed opinions regarding the cause of death and any potential contributory factors.


The treating physician will typically contact the forensic pathologist before the autopsy with specific questions or concerns that he or the family would like addressed by the examination. The pathologist will provide a written preliminary report of the gross diagnoses within 48 hours after the autopsy. Forensic Medical abides by all Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization standards established for hospital autopsies.

The autopsy report, when complete, becomes part of the decedent’s medical record at the facility where the patient died, and the family may obtain a copy of the autopsy report from that facility or from the primary care provider. Forensic Medical typically does not provide a copy of the autopsy report directly to the family. The hospital, by signing the authorization for autopsy, accepts financial responsibility for the autopsy fee.

In general, the autopsy examination is completed within 24 hours after the body arrives where the examination is to occur.

Forensic Autopsies

In Tennessee, a medicolegal or forensic autopsy may be ordered by a county medical examiner, the state medical examiner, or by the appropriate district attorney’s office. County medical examiners are physicians appointed to the post who are responsible for certification of cause and manner of death in cases of unusual, unexpected, or unnatural deaths, which include homicides, suicides, accidents, and deaths in otherwise healthy people. Many such cases may require an autopsy for accurate and complete determination of the cause of death.

Once the decision has been made to order an autopsy, the county medical examiner then refers the decedent to a regional forensic center in which the autopsy will be performed by a board-certified forensic pathologist. By law, facilities performing forensic autopsies in the state of Tennessee must be accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), which assures that nationally-accepted standards for our investigations are being satisfied. Forensic Medical Management Services, PLC oversees the Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Office of the Medical Examiner and in that role provides medicolegal autopsy services to over fifty counties in Tennessee.


When the autopsy has been concluded, a death certificate will be completed by the forensic pathologist to accompany the body to the funeral home. Frequently, additional testing or information will need to be provided in order for a final determination of cause and manner of death to be made. In such circumstances, an initial death certificate reflecting the pending status of the case will be issued, followed by a delayed certification of death indicating the final results of the autopsy and death investigation. Performance of a forensic autopsy will not hinder or delay a funeral, including open-casket services.


After the autopsy and all ancillary testing have been concluded, a formal autopsy report will be issued. This process usually takes several weeks to complete. Copies of the report are provided to the legal next-of-kin, treating physicians, law enforcement personnel, and district attorneys after an appropriate request has been received. Although the written autopsy report is considered a matter of public record, photographs taken during the autopsy and death scene investigation are not, and will not be released without an order issued by the court.


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