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When Are Autopsies Required By Law?

By Edward Tan, JD

300.ab.houston.021212  I saw this good opinion on and thought it would be useful because I’ve always wondered exactly when an autopsy would be required by law.  Of course, we all know that celebrities like Whitney Houston needed to have an autopsy done.  We had to remove all doubt of foul play. *Miss Houston had a beautiful voice and will be sadly missed.

The following is the blog from Edward Tan about autopsies on

“People usually have a lot of questions when a loved one dies, especially around the cause of death. Finding out involves a medical examination by a coroner, but when is an autopsy required?

The answer isn’t always a clear one. When a person dies, an autopsy can be ordered depending on the situation — such as in the case of famed painter Thomas Kinkade, who recently died.

You might be surprised to learn when autopsies are mandated by the law.

The situations that require an autopsy can vary from state to state. Typically though, a medical examiner or coroner can require an autopsy in the following situations.

1) Suspicion of Foul Play

Whenever it appears a person died from something other than natural causes, like a murder, an autopsy can be ordered. The foul play doesn’t have to be obvious either. A police investigator can have one done against a family’s wishes if foul play is suspected.

2) Infectious or Contagious Disease

If it’s suspected that a person died as a result of a disease, an autopsy can be ordered for public health purposes. The reason is because stopping the spread of diseases is important to the government.

3) Infant Death

Some states, such as California, allow doctors to request an autopsy when an infant dies.

4) Inmate Death

Under federal law, CEOs of prisons may order an autopsy of an inmate if they died from murder, suicide, illness, accident or any unexplained death. But the autopsy must be done according to the laws of the state where the prison is located.

5) Family Request

And of course, families can always request an autopsy for their late loved one, as well.”

Now you know when autopsies are required by law.  Check it.

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