What does a post mortem examination involve?

During the postmortem, all parts of the body undergo a detailed inspection to determine the presence, nature and extent of any injury or disease. The pathologist will carry out a detailed external and internal investigation of the body using techniques similar to those used in surgical operations.

This inspection requires that all organs be removed from the body and examined. Small specimens or samples of tissue are taken from individual organs and are usually retained for further scientific testing to be performed to ensure that any questions which may arise months, or years after death, can be answered by further examination, perhaps by new techniques which were not available at the time of the initial post mortem examination.

These samples are tested for:

  • infection (microbiology)
  • changes in body tissue and organs ( histology)
  • Chemicals, for example medication, drugs or poisons (toxicology and pharmacology)

These tests, including toxicology tests are carried out on samples of blood or tissue that are taken from the person’s body and retained for that purpose.

None of the tests, including the toxicology tests are performed on the island and are sent abroad for that purpose. Consequently they can take a number of weeks or even months to complete. It is the forensic pathologist who, during the post mortem exam, will determine whether these tests are required.

When the post mortem examination is complete the body of the deceased is released to the family even if an inquest may not yet have formally begun into the deceased death.

At the moment, there is no resident pathologist on the island and the one assigned to the island comes from abroad. It is therefore not likely that the post mortem examination will take place a few days after the death of the deceased.