For standard post-mortem examinations the testing process takes between one and six weeks, depending on what type of analysis needs to be done.
In most cases the process is very much like having a biopsy in life - the samples are approximately the size and thickness of a little fingernail. The Pathologist will look at them under the microscope to confirm what was seen to the naked eye and also look for conditions or diseases that couldn’t be seen to the naked eye.
In a small number of cases it is necessary to retain a whole organ or part of an organ to allow for more detailed examination.
Small quantities of blood, urine or other body fluids may be taken if the Pathologist needs to check for the presence of alcohol, over the counter medications, prescribed medications or common drugs of abuse. A full toxicological screen is performed regardless of an individual’s lifestyle or circumstances.
It is not possible to predict in advance of a post-mortem examination whether histology and/or toxicology samples will need to be retained for testing at a later date but when discussing post-mortem examination arrangements the Coroner’s Officer will speak to you about the possibility of this. The Human Tissue Act 2004 sets down strict regulations for samples and so the Coroner’s Officer will ask you how you would wish any samples to be handled once testing is complete. You have a choice of four options;
- The hospital should lawfully and sensitively dispose of any samples (which may include cremation)
- The hospital should retain any samples EITHER as part of the deceased’s clinical record only OR for use in education and training
- The samples should be reunited with the body prior to the body being released for a funeral (which may delay funeral arrangements)
- The samples should be returned to the family for a separate funeral at your own expense.
Although we will talk to you about this before the post-mortem examination when we are giving you the post-mortem results, we will always inform you if samples have been taken and we will record your decision.
You will be required to sign a form to confirm your wishes after the post-mortem examination has taken place. Your funeral director may assist you with this.