The term ‘autopsy’ comes from the ancient Greek word ‘autopsia’, which means ‘to see for oneself.’ However, one of the first civilizations to practice the removal and investigation of internal organs of humans were the ancient Egyptians. With techniques that date back to around 3000 BC, the Egyptians used the practice during the religious practice of mummification.
An examination of the fingernails, toenails, skin, and hair of a corpse follow. The color and texture of skin could unlock clues regarding the death of a corpse. The state of their hair could indicate a pre-existing medical condition. The fingernails could show signs of a struggle or reveal identifying information about an attacker. The skin on the arms and legs of the body are checked for syringe markings to rule out the possibility of drug use , whether voluntary or involuntary.
If the corpse is a female, a medical autopsy will include a thorough exploration of the external genitalia. A coroner will pay close attention to the labia, pubic hair and overall vagina. They want to know if a rape had occurred or if sexual assault was committed against the woman before or after she died.
Bodily fluids of the corpse are drawn and later undergo a series of toxicology tests. Blood and urine can tell a lot about the last moments of a corpse. For example, such body fluids can indicate the presence of drug and alcohol in the bloodstream. Testing blood and urine can also identify medical conditions that could have contributed to their death.
The most glaring detail of an autopsy is the “Y”-shaped incision that is made along the full length of a corpse. This cut is large and opens up the entire front of the body. The incision begins at each shoulder and travels on an angle down to the middle of the chest. The cut then meets to form a straight line that continues all the way to the pubic region.
After the appropriate incision has been made, the organs of the upper abdominal cavity are removed. This includes the lungs, heart, esophagus and trachea. The coroner will then removes the lower abdominal organs, including the liver, spleen, kidneys, adrenals, stomach, and intestines. Slices of each organ are taken for later testing.
The internal genitalia of both males and females are examined during an autopsy with extra caution given to the female genitalia. A coroner will be on the lookout for any signs of pregnancy, rape, or sexual assault in a female. The uterus and vagina are carefully studied. The removal of the organs in the pelvic region follows with samples taken of the bladder, uterus, and the ovaries.
If the corpse experienced a drowning or is suspected to have undergone a poisoning or drug overdose, the contents of the stomach are removed and examined. Anything that is detected at this time is recorded.