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Post-mortems at MedUni Vienna

The Department of Forensic Medicine of the Medical University of Vienna performs different types of post-mortems to establish cause of death.

A post-mortem examination or obduction (from the Latin obducere = to conceal or cover) or section (from the Latin secare = to cut) or autopsy (from the Greek autopsia = to see with one's own eyes) is used to establish cause of death.

According to § 125 Austrian Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO), a post-mortem is the opening up of a cadaver by an official for the purpose of establishing the cause of death or other circumstances important in casting light on a criminal offence. Even today, the legal basis is still the "Requirement for the performance of a forensic examination of the body" dating from 1855, as well as the Austrian Code of Criminal Procedure (§ 128).

Depending upon the reason for a post-mortem examination and by whom it is commissioned, and consequently the person performing it, there are five different types of post-mortem:

Clinical post-mortem
Commissioned by: Treating physician
Performed by: Consultant pathologist
Legal basis: Hospitals Act (Krankenanstaltengesetz) § 25
Objective: To clarify the cause of death and quality control of diagnosis and treatment.

Health Authority post-mortem
Commissioned by: Health authority (district administration or in Vienna MA 15 - Health Authority)
Performed by: Consultant pathologist or forensic pathologist
Legal basis: Relevant regional legislation, e.g. Vienna Undertakers Act
Objective: To establish cause of death.

Forensic post-mortem

Commissioned by: Public prosecutor's office
Performed by: Expert(s) in forensic medicine
Legal basis: Code of Criminal Procedure § 128
Objective: To establish cause of death and third-party responsibility.

Private post-mortem
Commissioned by: Relative/legal successor
Legal basis: Relevant regional legislation, e.g. Vienna Undertakers Act
Performed by: In principle, post-mortems may be performed by anyone authorised to practice the profession of doctor in Austria. The doctor commissioned with performing the private post-mortem is required to notify the Health Authority immediately, giving the name of the deceased and the time and place of the planned post-mortem.
Objective: To establish the actual cause of death, e.g. for insurance purposes.

Teaching post-mortem

This may only be done if, while they were alive, the deceased donated their body to the Institute of Anatomy of an Austrian medical university.Relatives/legal successors can object to such a body donation, insofar as this has not been notarised.
Performed by: Consultant in anatomy, pathology or forensic medicine
Objective: To further the education of students and advanced medical training, as well as medical-scientific research.

Relatives' consent is not required for clinical or forensic post-mortems or those ordered by the Health Authority and so they cannot refuse it. Private or teaching post-mortems may only be conducted after the body has been released for burial and hence only after a "Death Certificate" has been issued.

Each post-mortem comprises the following stages:

  • External inspection of the clothed and unclothed body
  • Internal inspection with opening and inspection of the head, thoracic cavity, abdominal cavity and examination of the skeletal system
  • Asservation of examination samples
  • Writing of a post-mortem report
  • Listing cause of death and any other diagnoses

According to the Undertakers Act, minutes must be kept of all officially ordered post-mortems and this must include the following, as a minimum:

  • Identity of the subject of the post-mortem
  • Findings obtained
  • Diagnosis of illness
  • Cause of death

Contact

Medical University of Vienna

Department of Forensic Medicine
Sensengasse 2
1090 Vienna, Austria

gerichtsmedizin@meduniwien.ac.at