During some random police procedural, I’d always see corpses being autopsied and their organs removed, but I wanted to know how often is that actually done in real life.
Does every single corpse have their organs removed?
If you’re an organ donor, your organs would, of course, be removed. Otherwise, your organs are only removed during a postmortem to determine cause of death.
I thought that during the process of embalming, they removed organs because the ancient Egyptians did that when they embalmed corpses. ( I might have misinterpretted what embalming actually is.)
Dr Rob Jenkins, Pathologist, goes through the process of a postmortems:
If a young person dies, the likelihood of them having a postmortem is high because their death is much more likely to be unexpected. Many older people who die won’t have a postmortem because they are likely to have had a known illness that has led to their death.
The internal examination starts with an incision from the sternum to the pubic bone. You go through the skin, fat and muscles to expose the rib cage. Then you cut through some of the ribs for access to the upper organs.
When removing the organs you work in three blocks. The thoracic block contains the throat, tongue, lungs, heart and aorta. Then you have the liver, stomach and pancreas in the second block. The final block includes the kidneys, the remainder of the aorta, bowels, bladder and reproductive organs.
Once you have removed all the organs, you take them to the bench and go through each of the blocks for more detailed analysis. You look for organ weight – a good indication of heart disease will be a big, heavy, often baggy, heart. You look for vessels blocked by clots or fatty deposits. As you slice through the lungs, you are looking to see if there is fluid where there shouldn’t be, if there are tumours or evidence of asbestos exposure. If someone had alcoholic liver disease, one might expect a small, shrunken, scarred liver.
Karen Koutandos, embalmer, talks about the embalming process and how that’s not about removing organs but merely dehydrating and emptying them.
After the formaldehyde, I drain the body of blood and fluid from the organs and chest cavity. I make an incision just under the rib cage and insert a metal suction tool, known as a trocar, attached to a suction pump. I then puncture the internal organs to drain the fluid. I remove the contents of the intestines, bowels and bladder, too, as these can give off gases and smell. I don’t come into contact with the fluids. It’s very clean and tidy. After I have drained the body, I distribute a litre of cavity fluid between the thoracic and abdominal cavities so that all the tissues are saturated and do not smell. Although the bowels will have already been emptied, I put an incontinence pad on the body to protect the clothing and the coffin.
We have to take out pacemakers because they can’t go into the crematorium. Usually you are told that the person has a pacemaker that needs to come out, but if you are not, you can see the incision where it has gone in.
So, in conclusion, unless the cause of death is unknown or you’re an organ donor, your organs will not be removed when you die.