5 Things You Didn't Know About Autopsies


They're Not Cheap

Generally, an autopsy is paid for by the party that's requesting it. However, some hospitals will perform them for no cost if a family member wants it. Chris Gordon/Getty Images

Who pays for an autopsy? Generally, the operation is financed by the party that's demanding or requesting it. If somebody dies under suspicious circumstances, a state or county may call for a forensic autopsy. Taxpayers foot the bill in those situations. In cases where the government sees no need to mandate an autopsy, the family of the deceased can request one — but they may have to pay for it out of pocket.

As "Frontline" reports, most insurance plans don't cover autopsy expenses, so many families wanting an autopsy of a deceased loved one must hire a private autopsy service. Others use their own money to pay the local medical examiner or coroner's office for a thorough inspection of the corpse. But be warned: Privately financing an autopsy can set you back to the tune of $3,000 to $6,000.

Turning to your local hospital could be a (much) cheaper option. While some of these institutions command hefty price tags for autopsies, others will conduct them on former patients at no cost. Yet hospitals that offer this kind of free service may not have the facilities to perform autopsies themselves and hence outsource the work.

Prior to the 1970s, accredited hospitals in the United States were required to conduct autopsies on at least 20 percent of their deceased ex-patients, but that requirement was lifted in 1971.

This policy change is one reason why hospital autopsies have become rarer over the past half-century. (Another contributing factor was the rise of body-scanning technologies.) In the late 1940s, around 50 percent of all the deaths in American hospitals were followed by an autopsy. By 2017, that rate had dropped to 5 percent nationally. Today many U.S. hospitals no longer perform any in-house autopsies whatsoever.