Dissection of a corpse during an autopsy follows the external examination when the corpse still contains tissues and organs that can be examined. The steps that a medical examiner, or a general anatomical pathologist, may take in the internal examination include the following:
- Makes Incision: The medical examiner makes a Y-shaped incision, two extending from each shoulder down to the lower end of the sternum (breastbone), and the third continuing down the midline of the abdomen to the pubis. The ribs and clavicle (collarbone) then are cut and the breastplate is removed to expose the lungs, heart and other abdominal organs and blood vessels.
- Removes Heart and Lungs: The heart and lungs then are removed, usually as one unit. Any blood needed for DNA samples, typing and toxicology testing is then taken from the heart, the aorta or the peripheral vein.
- Examines the Abdomen: After the heart and lungs are removed, weighed and examined, the medical examiner focuses on the abdomen. Tissue samples may be taken for microscopic examination.
- Collects Samples: The stomach contents are examined and samples are taken for toxicology investigation. Additionally, gall bladder bile, urine and liver tissue samples might be taken for the same reason.
- Assesses Head and Brain: The medical examiner looks for signs of head trauma and examines the brain by opening the skull. The medical examiner will examine the brain as it sits in the skull (in situ) and then removes it for a more thorough examination and to take tissue samples.
Once each organ has been examined and samples taken, the organs are returned to the body and the incisions are closed by sutures. At that time, the body usually is released to the family for burial.