Purpose & criteria for a medico-legal autopsy

[Dr. Fowler]: The purpose of conducting an autopsy is to assist the medical examiner in determining the cause of death within a reasonable degree of medical certainty. Now the autopsy itself is not the only tool that one uses to do that. You take all the information that you can get from the scene, the medical records, family information, etc., etc. and use that to make a decision as to whether an autopsy is necessary. So when we look at the criteria for when an autopsy is necessary, the medical examiner gets to decide whether or not performing that autopsy is going to provide additional information to determine the cause of death that's going to be critical in this particular case. In some cases, let me use an example here; when a person dies quietly in bed, they are relatively elderly, there's nothing suspicious going on, the medical examiner may elect not to do an autopsy because there's really not good driving reason to do so. In other cases where a young person died in similar circumstances, obviously there is a critical need to do the autopsy so it has to have some outcome on the actual, or it has to fit the outcome so to speak in that particular case. Do I have enough information just from investigation alone or does the autopsy or will the autopsy provide me with additional information? That's the one set of autopsies that we will do. There are another set of autopsies that we will do obviously to document the injuries in a person very accurately because there are legal implications down the line and that information is going to be critical to other persons in this particular investigation such as state's attorneys, police, insurance companies, etc.