Skip to main content
Sign In

You have reached the Web site for the Department of Pathology at the University of Colorado Denver.

Pathology Banner Image
 

Autopsy

Anatomic Pathology


Autopsy Service: General Information and Assistance: 

For answers to questions regarding consent, pre-arrangements, and autopsy matters, please contact the Decedent Affairs Office at 720.848.4356 from 7:00 am and 7:00 pm Monday through Friday and Saturday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. 


The Department of Pathology may decline the autopsy or limit the exam based on the discretion of the attending pathologists or the Director of the Autopsy Service. No autopsy will be performed without approval of the Pathology Attending Physician and without proper next-of-kin consent.


Who is NOT Eligible for University of Colorado Hospital Autopsy:  

  • Patients who have never been seen at the University of Colorado Hospital or its satellite clinics
  • Patients whose death occurs while admitted to a hospital other than the University of Colorado Hospital
  • Patients who have not been seen by a University of Colorado Hospital physician within 5 years prior to death
  • Patients whose death falls under the jurisdiction of a coroner or medical examiner for determination of cause and manner of death. 


Families of non-eligible patients are advised to seek an autopsy at the hospital where the patient's physician has clinical privileges or they may seek a private autopsy through the Arapahoe County Coroner's Office at 720.874.3625.  


Who Is Able to Give Consent for Autopsy:

The descending order in determining and verifying the legal next of kin is listed below and is adhered to in each and every case. If a person of equal class objects to an autopsy, the autopsy will not be completed, even if a valid permit exists. If an autopsy is conducted without the permission of the appropriate legal next of kin, all involved parties may be sued for unauthorized assault upon the body. If any question exists as to the validity of the consent, an autopsy will not be completed.


  1. Surviving Spouse (separated is acceptable, divorced is not)
  2. Adult Children (oldest to youngest, including adopted)
  3. Father or Mother
  4. Brother or Sister
  5. Grandfather or Grandmother
  6. Uncle or Aunt
  7. Legal Guardian
  8. Other person accepting legal responsibility for funeral arrangements 


Note:  Per Colorado Revised Statute 15-11-107 regarding Kindred of Half Blood relatives of the half-blood inherit the same share they would inherit if they were of the whole blood. 


Reporting to Coroner’s Office (deaths at University of Colorado Hospital):

  • ​State Law and hospital policy require all deaths to be reported to the Adams County Coroner’s Office (303-659-1027), regardless of the circumstances of the death
  • Most cases will be released by the Coroner’s Office back to the hospital for an autopsy to be performed if consent is obtained
  • Coroners or Medical Examiners from ANY county have the right to remove a body from the University of Colorado Hospital at any time
  • Any unexplained death, or death that results from equipment failure or malfunction must be reported to the University Hospital Risk Management Office (303-724-7475) in addition to being reported to the Coroner’s Office


Requesting an Autopsy (deaths at University of Colorado Hospital):

To provide consent for autopsy or inquire about the possibility, please contact the Decedent Affairs Office at 720.848.4326.  When an adult patient expires in University of Colorado Hospital, a Patient Service Coordinator (PSC) or nurse on that unit will initiate the “Discharge by Death Procedure Packet (Adult).” These packets are available on all nursing units, as well as in the Emergency Room, Operating Room and Day Surgery.  They can be found in the file cabinet at each unit’s PSC station.  The packets contain the necessary paperwork for obtaining proper consent for the exam. A representative from the Decedent Affairs Office is typically available to respond at the time of death to meet with the family in person if the death occurs during business hours of 7:00 am and 7:00 pm Monday through Friday and Saturday from 08:00 am to 4:00 pm on Saturdays (the Decedent Affairs Office is closed on hospital holidays). If the death occurs after business hours, a representative from the Decedent Affairs Office will contact the family on the next business day to confirm autopsy wishes and provide knowledgeable assistance with navigating the next steps required for final disposition.


Autopsy Arrangements for Deaths that occur outside of the University of Colorado Hospital:


Coroner Notification 

If the patient's death is reportable to the coroner, you must notify the coroner in the county where the patient died. 


Costs 

There is no fee charged to the family or patient’s estate for the autopsy examination.  The family or estate is responsible for any cost incurred by the funeral home for transportation of the deceased to the University of Colorado Hospital morgue (for patients who die at a location other than the University of Colorado Hospital). This cost is charged by the selected funeral home, mortuary or crematory and is typically incorporated into the total memorial package. 


Families are advised to investigate various funeral/final disposition providers prior to death of the patient to determine which service or provider best fits into their budget, lifestyle and desires. They may consult the internet or their local telephone directory to shop various options. 


Pre-arrangements (for deaths that occur outside the University of Colorado Hospital):

For patients with a terminal illness it is possible and preferred that pre-planning be done with the Decedent Affairs Office (listed above) prior to the patient’s death. Questions regarding autopsy procedure, timing, and consent process can be addressed during this phone conversation. Pre-planning can be accomplished weeks or even months ahead of time. The patient’s information will be kept on file and updated as status reports are received from the family. Consent for autopsy must be provided by the patient's legal next of kin and only after the patient's death. Consent is simple and can be given over the phone.


Families requesting autopsy must provide the Decedent Affairs Office with up-to-date medical records from outside sources which detail clinical history subsequent to the time the decedent was last seen at University of Colorado Hospital. Pertinent records should be faxed to 720.848.4358 as soon as possible for review.


Upon the death of the patient, the family, hospice staff, caregivers, or funeral provider must notify the Office of Decedent Affairs at 720.848.4356 with date and time of death to initiate the intake process. The Office of Decedent Affairs will confirm with the next-of-kin and Attending Pathologist to finalize consent for autopsy and schedule the examination. The company transporting the patient to University of Colorado Hospital must have the patient properly tagged with identification and contained in body bag in order to be accepted into the morgue. Any case which originates within University of Colorado Hospital will take precedence and be completed prior to any pending outside case. Any requests for autopsy made late in the day prior to a weekend or holiday will be addressed on the following business day.

 

Once the autopsy is complete, the office of Decedent Affairs will arrange for patient to be returned to the care of the funeral home, mortuary or crematory. 


Consent for Autopsy (for deaths that occur outside the University of Colorado Hospital): 

Upon the patient’s death the legal next of kin must contact the Decedent Affairs Office in order to complete the University of Colorado Disposition Permit which requires the person(s) granting permission declare that they bear the legal authority to make decisions regarding Authorization for Autopsy Examination. The consent must clearly list any desired exclusions and can be completed only after the patient has died. Preauthorized permits are not acceptable. Verbal consent by telephone is legal provided all the following conditions are met: 


  • The person giving permission is the proper individual to do so
  • He/she can be identified
  • The telephone permission is witnessed by at least two parties from the Office of Decedent Affairs
  • The permit is properly completed 


Funeral Home Designation and Transportation to UCH: 

The legal next of kin must arrange for final disposition through a funeral home, mortuary or crematory. It is preferable that the Decedent Affairs Office be made aware of the family’s chosen funeral home, mortuary or crematory prior to death. The family should ensure that all caregivers and other concerned parties are aware of plans for autopsy at University. Having all concerned parties mindful of plans will allow a smoother process when the time comes. It is highly recommended and diagnostically valuable to move the deceased into a cooler environment as soon as possible after death; if caregivers are aware of this need, they can lessen the burden on grieving families by facilitating expeditious transportation to the University of Colorado Hospital.


Directions to the University of Colorado Hospital Morgue: 

From I-225 and Colfax, go west on Colfax to Quentin Street, go north on Quentin to 17th, go east on 17th to the covered dock area (entrance to the docks is located under the pedestrian bridge on 17th).  Office of Decedent Affairs (720.848.4356) can be contacted for arrivals during business hours of 7:00 am to 6:30 pm Monday through Friday or 8:00 am to 3:30 pm on Saturday. Arrivals after hours, Sundays, or holidays, Hospital Security (720.848.7777) should be contacted for entry. 


Results:

Complete autopsy results are generally available within approximately twelve weeks. The results will rarely impact cause of death listing on the patient’s death certificate and will never change the manner of death listing on the death certificate. A summary letter detailing the findings is written by the resident who completed the autopsy is mailed to the next-of-kin listed on the UCH Disposition Permit.  If a copy of the complete autopsy report is desired, it must be requested from the department of Health Information Management. Release forms are mailed with the next-of-kin letter, but can also be obtained by visiting the University of Colorado Hospital Medical Records website. A copy of the death certificate is required to be submitted with the release form signed by the legal next of kin.