This is a question that many people have asked me in the past. One of the reasons for this, I feel, is the lack of education the general public has in the area of death.

Death is a subject we rarely would even think about discussing at the dinner table or a social event. It is the "unspoken fact" that is going to happen to all of us. What is much more painful sometimes is the experience of the death of a loved one whether it is expected or not. So many times when we lose a family member or friend, there are many unanswered questions that plague one or more family members. What caused the death? Is there a genetic connection with the cause of death and can my children and grandchildren be affected? Was there neglect or abuse involved? Could this be a hidden suicide or homicide? And the list can go on.

The word "autopsy" has been given a bad name by movies and novels. The morgue is always placed somewhere dark and dingy with weird staff members roaming around. But this is not the way it really is! The autopsy itself is a surgical procedure and does not maim and disfigure the body. Unless injuries have occurred that have affected areas of the face and body, the autopsy procedure will not be noticed during a funeral.

OLD AUTOPSYThe autopsy is the means to begin to answer some of the questions family members may have. It is conducted by a licensed forensic pathologist. In the past, if a family member wanted to have an autopsy conducted on a loved one, it was usually done by a hospital pathologist or by a Coroner/Medical Examiner system. In recent years, because of budget constraints, hospitals are accepting less and less autopsies to the family unless they fall within their administrative guidelines. This leaves the private sector without the resource to have this type of service available when it is needed. Private companies like NAS can  provide this service in Washington State.

There are often many legal issues surrounding a death that may not fall within the Coroner/Medical Examiner jurisdiction. These medicolegal cases will require a complete autopsy for determination of exact cause of death as well, as documentation for testifying purposes. The Forensic Pathologists are expert witnesses in the field of medicolegal death cases and can provide expert testimony when needed in court.


Can anyone request an autopsy? Any immediate member of a family can request an autopsy. "Immediate" member is a spouse, surviving children. If there is no spouse or children, then a father, mother, etc.

What is a Coroner or Medical Examiner Case? The Coroner or Medical Examiner is mandated by the State which deaths they have jurisdiction. The cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the Coroner or Medical Examiner usually deals with sudden, unexpected, violent or traumatic death. The Coroner or Medical Examiner makes the decision on what type of cases involving a natural death that may fall under their jurisdiction. Usually, if the person has significant well-documented medical history, the case would be released by the Coroner or Medical Examiner. Each jurisdiction has different guidelines they follow so each jurisdiction may be different from County to County. NAS is not affiliated with a Coroner or Medical Examiner's system.

Where are the private autopsies performed? NAS autopsies are performed in the funeral home where the body is located. If the funeral home does not have the accommodations for the autopsy, another location is provided by NAS.

Who performs the Autopsy? NAS has Board Certified Forensic Pathologists that conduct the autopsy and are assisted by Forensic Technicians. There is one Pathologist and one Forensic Technician at every autopsy.

Do I need to have a Complete autopsy? NAS suggests a family to have a complete autopsy. This will help to eliminate any questions that may arise after the body is buried or cremated. There are several occasions when a complete autopsy would not be necessary however. Many families are interested only in brain studies, so only the removal of the brain is necessary, for example. The best advice is to contact NAS and a Forensic Consultant can assist you with these decisions.

Will I be able to view the body after an autopsy? Of course. The autopsy is a surgical procedure and does not maim the body. Extreme care and respect is taken with the body so as not to interfere with the viewing process. NAS staff consults with the Funeral Director at the funeral home to make sure the family is not affected at a viewing.

How much does a private autopsy cost? The cost of an autopsy varies according to the type of autopsy and the agency performing it. NAS price range for a complete autopsy is between $2450.00 - $3900.00 per autopsy depending on the type and location of the autopsy. For more information on pricing please contact NAS at (253)845-3511 or email:

How soon do I need to have an autopsy performed? NAS would like to conduct the autopsy as soon as possible after death occurs. The longer the body remains at a funeral home, even under refrigeration, the greater the chances of artifacts from autolysis interfering with the autopsy results.

How long does it take to get a report? NAS will contact the person giving the consent for the autopsy with preliminary results right after the autopsy. A complete report will be mailed to the client family members within sixty days after the autopsy. If special tests have to be conducted, it could take longer for a completed report. Brain analysis usually takes approximately four to six weeks to complete.

What about conducting an investigation beyond the autopsy? NAS is a division of Emphasis Technography, a licensed Private Investigation Agency.  Complete investigation of accidental, wrongful, criminal, medical misadventure, suicide, work-place, or other deaths is available from Emphasis Technography.  Click here to view an overview of available investigative services.

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Washington Investigative Agency #434
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