Waukesha County

About Autopsies

What determines whether or not an autopsy is necessary?
The Waukesha County Medical Examiner’s Office (WCMEO) will consider the facts of each case individually. Once we receive all of the pertinent information regarding the circumstances surrounding the death, we will determine what level of investigation/examination is necessary to determine the cause and manner of death. In some cases, this will require the performance of an autopsy.

What is an autopsy? Will it affect the funeral arrangements?
An autopsy is a medical examination of a decedent, and consists of two parts: an external examination and an internal examination. During the external examination, the decedent is first examined as received (including any clothing present), again after removal of clothing, and yet again after being cleaned up. Throughout the examination process, the findings (traumatic injuries, disease states, etc.) are documented. Following the external examination, the decedent is then examined internally, with all organs and tissues examined for the presence of injuries and pre-existing natural disease.

In the course of an autopsy, samples of various organs, tissues and body fluids are retained for additional studies, if warranted. These studies include toxicology (testing for drugs, etc.), microscopic examination and microbiology (bacterial, viral, or fungal cultures). In addition, other items of evidence may be collected, such as trace evidence, bullets, knife blades, ligatures, hair, fingernail clippings, sexual assault swabs, etc.

The performance of an autopsy should NOT affect funeral arrangements. The incisions made during autopsy are easily concealed by a funeral director and are not visible during the funeral visitation. The performance of the autopsy should not delay the funeral under most circumstances.

Will I have to pay for an autopsy?
No. There is no charge to the family for an autopsy on a death which falls under the legal jurisdiction of the WCMEO. However, if our office needs to perform an autopsy or external examination, we will invoice the funeral home for medically certifying the death certificate. This charge may then be seen by you via the funeral home.

Will the WCMEO perfom an autopsy on a Waukesha County death which does not fall within its legal jurisdiction (a "private" autopsy)?
It is the policy of the WCMEO not to perform "private autopsies" on Waukesha County deaths, as it is felt to represent a possible conflict of interest. As this is a county office, funded by tax dollars, the performance of autopsies on Waukesha County deaths is restricted to those which fall within our legal jurisdiction. In other words, the WCMEO is not mandated to perform an autopsy on any Waukesha County death---only on those over which jurisdiction is assumed. The office may, however, be able to provide next-of-kin with contact numbers for pathologists known to perform private autopsies. Be aware that the cost of a private autopsy is the financial responsibility of the legal next-of-kin.