Why do they perform autopsies on executed prisoners?

In most reports of executions I’ve read (and here in Texas we have plenty of them), as soon as they take the guy off the gurney, electric chair, or whatever, the body is immediately whisked off to autopsy.

Hey, it seems to me it’s pretty obvious what killed him. The only reason I can think of is that they’re trying to find a brain tumor or something. Perhaps to explain the Criminal Mind?

What exactly are they looking for?

I know this isn’t a direct answer to your question, but there used to be a link on the Official Darwin Awards Homepage (the link seems to be dead now)to a site that describes how autopsies are performed. One of the facts on the page stated that in 25% of autopsies, a potentially fatal disease is sometimes found that the person was unaware of during life. So maybe they are looking for brain tumors and lung cancer and stuff.

Execution is a homicide. I think homicides require an autopsy.

Yep. In most states, in any case where the death was not “natural causes” an autopsy is required. That includes falling off a roof, being shot, wading in shark infested waters, or being executed.

The autopsy is always ruled a homicide.

Can’t you decline, flat out, not to have an autopsy, no matter what?

Autopsies are performed on all inmates who die while in prison. It’s required by law.

To me, that seems to be a pretty simple-minded law if it doesn’t distinguish between an inmate killed in a shower incident and one given a lethal injection by the authorities.

All of these “autopsies are required by law” answers don’t really answer the OP, IMHO.

Autopsies are (I’d imagine) expensive to perform, at least in terms of the coroner’s time. Why does the law make them bother when the cause of death is so eminently obvious? What do they hope to learn by doing it? If the answer is “nothing”, then can we concede that it’s an idiotic legal requirement, and that an autopsy is a pro forma waste of taxpayer resources?

If the answer’s not “nothing”, then I’d be interested in hearing what it is…

A recognized authority declares the person legally dead.

Wasing in shark infested waters is not a natural cause?!? What is a natural cause?

Well I think “natural causes” means when the body is found it looks like the person died from a heart attack, stroke, etc, and there is no immediate evidence of homicide or an accident.

It also absolved the state of any type of liability with regard to the deceased. If you have proof that the person did, in fact, die by being executed, you know that there is no reason to have a homicide investigation or something silly like that, which would assuredly be a further taxpayer expense. I’m sure there are many relatives of executed prisoners who have tried to seek retribution from the state with oddball legal wrangling. Annoying? Perhaps, but certainly not simple-minded, IMO.

This is kind of the answer I was hoping to get, to be honest. As long as there’s some kind of motivation that makes sense for autopsying executed inmates, I have no problem with the practice. What you state up there sounds like adequate justification to me - thanks.

My problem with the “all inmates who die must be autopsied” explanation is that executions might be seen as a very special case which may warrant an exception to that pretty broad one-sentence principle (which likely wasn’t targeted primarily at executions). I think (hope) that the OP was asking for something besides “they do them because the law says to, and nobody knows or cares just why the law says to.” You provided that something in your post. :slight_smile:

also, medicine greatly advances when it has bodies to study. If a prisoner was aging, they could study his brain for precursors of alzeimher’s disease. I he had any kind of medical condition, they get to check up on the status of his internal organs.

Once your body belongs to the state, it’s essentially their’s to do what they see fit with.


I don’t know of any dead people that have expressed a desire not to have one. :D:D