Reasons, circumstances and results of repeat forensic medicine autopsy

Original article


Grellner W, Glenewinkel F, Madea B.

Institut fur Rechtsmedizin der Universitat Bonn.

Arch Kriminol. 1998 Nov-Dec;202(5-6):173-8.


There are only scant literature data on reasons and circumstances of medico-legal second autopsies. The present study includes 12 second autopsies from the period 1992-1997; the first post-mortem examination took place either in the home country (institutes of pathology) or abroad. 7 of the 12 cases of death investigated happened in Germany (exclusively in hospitals) and 5 of them abroad (Netherlands, Romania, Portugal, Libya). Repeat autopsies were ordered by criminal courts (n = 9), private persons (n = 2) and social insurances (n = 1). The main indication was possible medical malpractice (n = 6); acts of violence (n = 3), insurance questions (n = 2) and accidents (n = 1) followed. The time lapse between death and second autopsy was 2-35 days. It was striking, that German institutes of pathology had partially performed autopsies despite the certification of a non-natural death. Clinical autopsies were stopped twice, when evidence of a possible non-natural death occurred. It could be fundamentally stated, that first autopsies in German institutes of pathology had been carefully performed and sufficiently documented. In these cases the second autopsy presented no or only little additional information, as far as the broader taking of (toxicological) samples is not considered. The final medico-legal expertise was then mainly based on the findings of the clinical first autopsy. However, the concurrence of the forensic expert (instead of the clinical pathologist) is undoubtedly essential for the evaluation of these issues involving frequently questions of malpractice. By contrast, the quality of postmortems performed abroad varies widely. 4 of the 5 first autopsies done abroad were regarded as completely or partly insufficient with superficial or almost absent preparation of organs or contradictions in the medical reports, respectively. A repeat autopsy is absolutely necessary in such cases. On the whole, the initial question could be answered in all second autopsies at least in part. This emphasizes the high value of second autopsies and expertises, especially in non-natural cases of death (10 of 12 deaths were finally judged as non-natural).

Keywords: Cause of Death,Coroners and Medical Examiners,Autopsy