Autopsy Answers And Painful Questions About Untimely Deaths In Medical Malpractice Cases

Last year our law firm reviewed a tragic Chicago medical malpractice case involving the death of a 28-year-old mother of three. While the facts seemed to point towards medical negligence as a contributing factor of the young woman’s death the medical records did not reveal a clear cut cause of death.

I remember the first conversation I had with the decedent’s husband, which took place shortly after her sudden death. During that conversation we discussed whether or not an autopsy should have been ordered. In my opinion whenever the cause of death seems unclear or suspicious it is wise to have an autopsy performed. However, in this case the woman’s surviving family members opted not to get an autopsy done.

Sadly, in this young woman’s case the real cause of death was never determined. While the medical records were reviewed by both a pathology expert and an infectious disease physician, neither were able to point to a definitive cause of death without an autopsy report. However, both physicians ruled out the causes of death listed on her death certificate, making the case even more of a mystery. Yet without any clear evidence there was nothing that could be done from a medical malpractice standpoint.

Would an autopsy have revealed the true cause of her death? Would it have shown something the doctors overlooked? Could the doctors have done something to prevent her untimely death?

These questions are common whenever there is uncertainty about a loved one’s death. For some people an autopsy allows them to resolve these issues and put their questioning to rest.

In some cases surviving family members’ fears can be reassured by a autopsy results, especially those who feel guilty that they missed important symptoms that could have prevented their relative’s death. In other cases, autopsies can determine whether someone died of a hereditary disease that may affect other family members and provide clues for the future health of the survivors.

While there are many benefits to having an autopsy done it can come at a high price; independent autopsies start at $3,000 and can run as high as $5,000 or more. In addition, many people opt against having an autopsies done due to personal or religious reasons.

Yet if you do decide to have an independent autopsy done the College of American Pathologist website maintains a list of board-certified pathologists who perform private autopsies. And whether an autopsy is done independently or through the hospital or county it must be done quickly. The best results are obtained within 24 hours of death, before the organs begin to break down.

And again, while an autopsy can be helpful it does not always provide an answer. The pathologist may be able to fill in some blanks and solve some missing pieces to the puzzle, but sometimes there are still unanswered questions. Ultimately the choice whether to have an autopsy done is a personal decision that only you can make.

Bob Kreisman of Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing Illinois medical malpractice law for over 30 years, serving areas in and around Cook County including Chicago, Wheeling, Wheaton, and Chicago Heights.