The University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) acts as an autopsy reference center for the state performing approximately 400-500 cases annually. The caseload is diverse, comprised of both medical and forensic examinations. While a general protocol is followed in all postmortem examinations, each decedent is unique and the approach may be adapted to fit the particular needs of the case. Our goals are to conduct autopsies in a thorough and safe manner; to analyze the findings with precision and accuracy; and to communicate diagnostic conclusions clearly and promptly. Our service offers consultative expertise in the fields of forensic pathology, neuropathology, pediatric/perinatal pathology, surgical pathology, and infectious disease—among others. An extensive array of ancillary testing is available as needed.
The word autopsy is derived from the Greek autopsia meaning “to see for oneself.” It is a process that begins with the consent of a coroner or next of kin, and ends with the production of a final report of detailing autopsy findings and correlating clinical or investigative history. The primary purpose of the autopsy is to educate regarding cause, manner, and mechanism of death. In this way, the autopsy serves as a vital hospital quality assurance measure by evaluating diagnostic accuracy and therapeutic efficacy. It is an important means of public health surveillance, helping to track infectious disease outbreaks, identify environmental hazards, and accurately document vital statistics. It provides biomedical researchers with necessary normal and diseased human tissues for research. Finally, it is a key component of criminal death investigations.
The UWHC autopsy service is accredited by the College of American Pathologists and participates in regular proficiency testing (ASCP Forensics CheckSample Program and CAP Autopsy Pathology Education Program).
- In all outside medical cases, the UW hospital mortician should be notified by the requesting party when an autopsy is needed by calling 608-263-8899. A message can be left if it is after normal business hours. In all UW medical cases, the mortician need not be notified.
- All bodies must be clearly identified (including the name of the hospital) and placed in a body bag.
- A funeral home or contracted delivery service should be contacted in non-UWHC cases to arrange transportation to our morgue, located in the Wisconsin Institutes of Medical Research at 1111 Highland Ave, Madison, WI 53706. The morgue can be accessed 24 hours a day.
- Monday-Friday between 8:00 am-4:00 pm and Saturday-Sunday 8:00 am-10:00 am call the morgue directly at 608-890-7075.
- All other hours, contact UWHC Security at (608) 890-5555.
- In medical cases, authorization for postmortem examination and pertinent medical records are to accompany the body to our facility. Without proper authorization the autopsy cannot be conducted.
- The authorization for postmortem examination needs to be authorized by the next-of-kin/legal guardian, signed by a witness, and to specifically list any restrictions.
- If there are not any restrictions for autopsy, “NONE” must be designated. If there are restrictions, the area that can be autopsied must be listed. Examples: “head only” or “chest and abdomen.”
- The funeral home that the body is to be transported to following completion of the autopsy should be designated. A complete autopsy does NOT interfere with viewing at a funeral, nor does it delay funeral arrangements.
- Forensic cases: autopsy date and time are arranged following discussion between forensic pathologist and requesting coroner/medical examiner. Due to the potential urgent criminal/legal aspects of such cases, forensic postmortem examinations can be conducted as needed 7 days a week.
- Medical cases: autopsies are conducted Monday through Saturday, and on holidays. Bodies received prior to 2 pm (with properly completed authorization forms) will be autopsied on that same day. Bodies received after 2 pm will be autopsied on the following day (or Monday, if the body is received after 2 pm on Saturday).