Is an Autopsy Illegal?
Selected writings of A. Jackson Howe.
The physician would often be glad to know whether or not he may legally make a post-mortem examination. This question is briefly and pointedly answered herein by Professor Howe.—Ed. Gleaner.
Is AN AUTOPSY ILLEGAL.—A medical friend states that he held a post-mortem examination lately, and carried away a piece of the heart for subsequent and more careful inspection. A son of the deceased, who lived away from home, was angry upon learning that an autopsy had been held upon his parent; and now threatens me with prosecution. Can he fine or imprison me? To the above I replied that in law there is no property in a human body; and cognizance is not taken of injured feelings, hence no legitimate cause for action exists. The threatening prosecutor will learn before he proceeds far that physicians commit no breach of the law when they hold autopsies; and that the appropriation of an insignificant part of a corpse for scientific investigation will not be held as theft. However, if a medical man carry away the uterus and its appendages for the purpose of concealing crime, he is guilty of misdemeanor, and liable to be punished for the misdeed.—HOWE, Eclectic Medical Journal, 1884.
The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.