Autopsy Permissions

Who may ask a family for permission to do an autopsy?

Only physicians may request permission for an autopsy (a UF Health Shands Hospital procedure).

Who may give permission for an autopsy?

In accordance with Florida statute 872.04:
  • "(2) Unless otherwise authorized by statute, no autopsy shall be performed without the written consent by the health care surrogate, as provided in s. 765.202, if one has been designated. If a health care surrogate has not been designated, then written consent may be provided by the spouse, nearest relative, or, if no such next of kin can be found, the person who has assumed custody of the body for purposes of burial. When two or more persons assume custody of the body for such purposes, then the consent of any one of them shall be sufficient to authorize the autopsy."
  • "(3) Any such written consent may be given by telegram, and any telegram purporting to have been sent by a person authorized to give such consent will be presumed to have been sent by such person. A duly witnessed telephone permission is acceptable in lieu of written permission in those circumstances where obtaining written permission would result in undue delay." (FS 872/04)
The hierarchy of legal next of kin is defined by Florida statute 497.005. This is the order in which permission must be sought:
  1. The surviving spouse, unless arrested for domestic violence against the decedent
  2. An adult child
  3. A parent (having legal custody)
  4. An adult brother or sister
  5. An adult grandchild
  6. Any person in the next degree of kinship

In the absence of any of the above, the health care surrogate may consent to an autopsy. In the event that the next of kin consists only of more than one adult sibling, it is recommended that all of them agree to the autopsy.

If none of these individuals is available or designated, the statute makes provisions for other individuals to act as the "legally authorized person (i.e., health care surrogates)." If the family declines an autopsy permission and later requests that one be performed, the autopsy office must be contacted to make arrangements for an autopsy.

What if the family only wants specific parts of an autopsy (a limited autopsy) performed?

The legal next of kin may specify that the autopsy be restricted to certain parts or regions of the body or may restrict the autopsy in some other fashion. This is not uncommon, and the autopsy service will honor those restrictions, which must be clearly stated in writing on the autopsy permit.

What is the difference between an "autopsy permission form" and an "autopsy request form?"

An autopsy permission form is a legal document that gives a hospital and its designee(s) the authority to perform a postmortem examination. A request for autopsy form is a physician's order — a consultation request — for an autopsy, which is comparable to a physician's order for a chest x-ray or other diagnostic test.