Post-mortem examinations (also known as autopsy)

A post-mortem examination may be requested by the Coroner, the Minister for Health, a hospital or the family of a deceased person. Part 4 of the Transplantation and Anatomy Act 1983 outlines the legislative requirements related to the authorisation of post-mortem examinations.

Hospital post-mortem examinations

The majority of hospital post-mortems are undertaken by SA Pathology Anatomical Pathology Departments at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (adults) and the Women's and Children's Hospital (children and babies).

Legislative requirements

The legislation requires that hospitals carrying out post-mortems must obtain consent from the senior available next of kin and confirm that the deceased had not, during his or her lifetime, expressed an objection to a post-mortem examination of his or her body. A Designated Officer must then authorise the post-mortem in writing confirming that the relevant conditions have been met. A Designated Officer is an independent medical practitioner appointed in writing under the Act by the Minister, whose purpose is to represent the intentions and interest of the deceased person and their family throughout the post-mortem process.

Accessing documents and forms — SA Health staff

Suitable documents to enable this have been redeveloped by a small working group across SA Health. These forms are available on the SA Health intranet (for SA Health staff) or from the contacts below, and include:

  • the request, consent and authority form (MR82F)
  • guidelines for completion of the MR82F form

Authorised SA Health staff can order these forms (along with the guidelines and family booklet) as a printed pack through Oracle by searching for the form number "MR82F".

Accessing documents and forms — non SA Health employees

For non-SA Health access to these forms or for further information, please contact SA Pathology at:

Family booklet

A family booklet has been redeveloped to provide relevant information to the senior available next of kin about post-mortem examination practices and procedures. This booklet is available in two sizes

Coronial post-mortem examinations

Some deaths must be reported to the Coroner, who may direct a post-mortem examination be performed. The Coroner’s Court website has more information about the deaths that need to be reported to the State Coroner, as well as coronial post-mortems.

Ministerial post-mortem examinations

In rare cases, the Minister can consent to a post-mortem examination in order to identify or deal with any risk (actual or perceived) to the health of the public. Before this occurs, the Minister will contact the senior available next of kin to discuss the matter.

National Code of Ethical Autopsy Practice 

The National Code of Ethical Autopsy Practice (PDF 79KB) contains:

  • nationally agreed guidelines for an autopsy request and authority form that addresses the community’s concerns and expectations
  • a set of principles and a national code of practice for autopsy procedures with such a code to include informed consent
  • agreed procedures for the handling and disposal of tissue and organs after the autopsy is completed.

SA Health has an Ethical Hospital Post-Mortem Practice Policy, which aligns with this national code of practice.