An autopsy is a detailed and careful medical examination of a person's body and its organs after death to help establish the cause of death.

On this page...


This interactive follows the human autopsy process from start to finish including an external examination, opening the body, viewing internal organs, removing the organs and weighing them, removing the brain, replacing all organs and closing the body.




The step by step demonstration of what happens during an autopsy procedure is best viewed on a desktop computer screen ie. a screen larger than 1024 pixel width - and using Chrome web browser.

When viewing on a tablet, please load in landscape orientation.

To view the text from each step of the autopsy, please select relevant sections as below.


The following is a step by step demonstration of what happens during an autopsy procedure.

Warning: some people might find this section disturbing. It contains detailed information about what happens in an autopsy.

<< Start >>


The first step in any forensic autopsy is the external examination of the body.

The forensic pathologist performs a detailed external examination of the body. The results are recorded and all physical characteristics are listed. The body must be measured and weighed.

<< Take a Look >>

Select the hotspots to discover what forensic pathologists look for in particular parts of the body and the equipment they use.

<< Next Step >>


To expose the internal organs the pathologist must open the body.

The first cut known as the 'Y' incision, is made. The arms of the Y extend from the front of each shoulder to the bottom end of the breastbone. The tail of the Y extends from the sternum to the pubic bone and typically deviates to avoid the navel.

The incision is very deep, extending to the rib cage on the chest, and completely through the abdominal wall below that. The skin from this cut is peeled back, with the top flap pulled over the face.

<< Begin Cut >>

<< Next step >>


Following the Y incision the ribs are sawn off to expose the internal organs. The sternal plate or anterior chest wall is cut away, to expose the organs underneath. Select each organ to reveal its name.

<< Next step >>


Each pathology service has its own autopsy technique. The most common way to remove the organs is known as the Rokitansky method.

The Rokitansky method involves removing the body organs all at once. That is, the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and spleen etc are removed in one block and then dissected on the autopsy table. The organs are dissected one-by-one and during the examination the forensic pathologist will collect small samples of tissue for further examination under the microscope.

Remove all the organs from the body

and place them on the sink area.

<< Next step >>


To remove the brain, an incision is made in the back of the scalp from one ear to the other. The scalp is cut and separated from the underlying skull and pulled forward. The top of the skull is removed using a vibrating saw. The entire brain is then gently lifted out of the cranial vault.

<< Next step >>


All organs, except for the intestines and stomach are weighed.

Take the organs that are to be weighed one at a time from the tray to the scales and put the organs into the correct order of weight (lightest to heaviest) back in the sink.

<< Next step >>


Following the examination, organs are returned to the body except for the small fragments of tissue sampled for microscopic examination. The organs are replaced in the body cavities. Sometimes absorbent, filler material is used to replace organs that are not returned.

The Coroner and the senior next of kin will be notified of any organs and/or larger fragments of tissue retained after the examination has been completed. The senior next of kin is asked about preference to return these retained specimens to the body and or respectful disposal thereof after the investigation has been completed.

<< Next step >>


After the pathologist has finished the examination and the organs are returned to the body, the post mortem technician will sew the body back up.

Once the Y incision and the head are sewn up, the autopsy (without brain and tissue analysis) is complete. Stitching of the incision is like that on a baseball.

<< Next step >>



Discover our exhibition about Death: the last taboo

Death is a process rather than an event. Learn more about the process and the many natural and human processes that occur after our death.

Learn more