Autopsy

PRIVATE (HOSPITAL) AUTOPSIES

General:
University Medical Center (UMC)/University of Arizona hospitals perform autopsies in the Department of Pathology, University Medical Center, 1501 N. Campbell Ave, Tucson AZ 85724, on decedents who are not Medical Examiner's cases and for whom a valid autopsy permission form has been obtained.

Types of Cases:
Medical Examiner's cases, for example those of homicide, suicide, accident, or death under suspicious circumstances, are performed by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (OME), at  520-243-8600. However, patients who die of natural causes, that is, medical diseases, do not fall under the OME's jurisdiction, and may undergo a hospital autopsy. These include common diseases, such a various kinds of heart disease, infectious diseases such a pneumonia, valley fever, etc., occupational diseases such as exposure to asbestos or silica, and all types of cancer. Patients who die suddenly while in apparent good health or who are being followed for a known disease may be autopsied here as well, as long as the OME does not accept jurisdiction.

Criteria for Accepting Cases:
The majority of our cases are patients dying of natural causes, for whom the next of kin is willing to authorize an autopsy. The next of kin is/are the surviving spouse, parents for a child, children for a sole parent, etc. Please call us at 520-694-6561 if you need help in this matter. The body must be in good condition, which usually means storage under refrigeration from shortly after death; an autopsy should be performed within 3 days of death.

Details of the Autopsy:
We prefer to perform a complete autopsy, which includes the organs of the chest and abdomen and the brain. However, a limited autopsy can also be done, such as a "brain only" autopsy for suspected Alzheimer's disease or a "chest only autopsy" on someone who died of heart disease. Organs will be removed, examined, and representative tissues/organs will be saved. Most of the tissues can be returned to the body if requested. Microscopic slides are prepared of all major organs. Autopsies are performed by pathology residents or fellows under the direct supervision of a University of Arizona Health Sciences Center/UMC  board-certified pathologist. Preliminary diagnoses are available within two working days. Many cases are completed by 30 days, and all are completed by 60 days. Copies of the preliminary and final autopsy reports are sent to the next of kin.

How to Arrange for an Autopsy:
Please call the UMC Autopsy Suite at 520-694-6561, Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 5 PM, MST. On nights and weekends, please call the UMC page operator (520-695-6000) and ask for the pathology resident on call.

Cost:
A full adult autopsy costs $2000; a partial autopsy (brain only, chest only, etc.) is $1100. Payment is expected in advance. There is no charge for the autopsy of deceased patients who die at UMC or have been regularly followed by a UMC physician. Transportation of the body to UMC and the cost of obtaining any medical records will be paid for by the person(s) requesting the autopsy.

Why Have an Autopsy?
Most of the time, most of the clinical diagnoses for which the patient is being treated are correct, even after autopsy. However, 5-10% of autopsies disclose findings that would have changed treatment and perhaps resulted in a better outcome, had they been known. Physicians, especially at this academic teaching hospital, can directly benefit for knowing these results and this improves their practice. Often at autopsy a clinical mystery is solved, such as "What was that shadow in the lung?" or "Why did he develop shock and die?"  Autopsy findings usually bring a degree of peace and closure to the next of kin. The next of kin often learn: 1) the clinical diagnoses and treatment were correct; 2) the patient's disease was far-advanced and nothing more could have been done. In general, an autopsy aids in the grieving process of the decedent's family and friends. After a decedent is buried or cremated, it is almost always too late to find out why the person died or answer other questions. Occasionally, autopsy findings may suggest a disease or condition that is inherited or contagious; the living may then be screened or tested for such a disease. Sudden, unexpected death is another event that may be better dealt with personally, if the cause of death is known.