When someone dies under “common” or very clear circumstances, such as disease, car accident, or old age, finding the cause of death through a board certified pathologist isn’t usually performed. However, when someone dies due to circumstances such as homicide, suicide, or unnatural accidents, a forensic autopsy may be ordered. Ideally, a pathologist will discover causes of death through an extensive examination of the body. These instances are qualified as forensic cases, but what about those that are not qualified as such? A private autopsy is an option for families who have questions about the cause of death of their loved ones. In cases such as medical malpractice, wrongful death, or death by violent means, a private autopsy could serve as the final answer to a burning question.
Deciding on a private autopsy may be the right decision for a few reasons, says American Forensics. Not only can a forensic pathologist find answers about inherited diseases and medical history, but also answer questions concerning suspected malpractice or wrongful death. This could include violent deaths caused by police brutality as well as deaths caused within the confines of jails.
What was once considered a routine procedure, performed on “more than half of American corpses,” after any kind of death, is now only performed on about 10% of Americans in an effort to cut costs, says The Wallstreet Journal. Autopsies used to be performed on a number of bodies that died within the hospital, but are now limited to teaching hospitals, says the article. Knowing how and why a family member has died could help the current and next generations gain a deeper understanding of their family history and even prevent future health related deaths as well as answer questions concerning the death itself.
Although a private autopsy is a solid means of finding answers, it could cost families up to $5,000 out of pocket, says PBS. Depending on transportation of the body, and autopsy type (adult, forensic, pediatric, second-opinion, toxicology), cost can vary, says the College of American Pathologists.
In cases where a forensic autopsy is not issued by the state, families are left to wonder (and pay) for their loved-ones’ deaths. Even when there is an official autopsy ordered, it may not be the most accurate information, says an article from the New York Times.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick founded a group that offers free second option autopsies for families whose loved ones died “under police-related circumstances.” Awareness about bias autopsies were brought to the surface after George Floyd’s second and private autopsy. It revealed that he did die of asphyxiation rather than heart disease and other contributing factors other than homicide, which was the conclusion of the state examiners report, said the article. Kaepernick’s group is not meant to point the blame, but rather aims to serve as a “check on the system,” and as a place for families to go who have lingering questions, says the NYT.
The death of a loved one is a traumatic enough event, but not knowing how or why can continue the trauma. In matters of death, there is comfort in knowing that there are options to finding the answers.
Do You Believe Your Loved One Was a Victim of Wrongful Death?
If you think your loved one was unfortunately a victim of wrongful death by police or correctional officers, we want to help. Please contact The Sehat Law Firm—our attorneys specialize in civil rights, police brutality, and actually understands the medicine involved in these types of cases.