Forensic Pathology South Island (FPSI) is the service providing post-mortem examinations (autopsies) for both Coronial Services of New Zealand (South Island) and Canterbury region hospitals.
Coronial autopsies are performed following a direction from the coroner for deaths that are sudden and unexpected. The main purpose of the examination is to determine the cause of death, but other questions around the circumstances of the death may also be answered by a post-mortem examination performed by a qualified pathologist.
Hospital autopsies are performed for some patients who pass away from natural causes while in hospital. If questions remain around how your loved one died, the doctors who treated them during life may ask you about having a pathologist examine the body to answer those questions. For example, sometimes a person is known to have died of cancer, but where the cancer started is unclear. If you agree to the examination, the pathologist will perform the post-mortem examination to answer the questions you or the doctors have about the death. Not all deaths require an autopsy, and sometimes an autopsy will not be able to answer the questions you or the doctors have. The doctor who treated your loved one during life will discuss with the pathologist whether an autopsy would be helpful.
A forensic pathologist is a medical doctor who specializes in autopsy and death investigation. After completing medical school, Forensic Pathologists complete at least another 5 years of training in interpretation of injuries and the changes after death, how to determine how and why someone died, and how to investigate unexpected deaths. Following their training, they must pass a detailed exam to become a fully qualified forensic pathologist. Ongoing education is required every year for them to stay current with new research and developments in the fields of forensic pathology and death investigation.
Forensic pathologists are the only professionals who are specifically trained to understand the processes happening in the body at the time of, and after, death and how those findings relate to the circumstances around the death.
Several other types of pathologists exist, and most pathologists diagnose diseases in living patients by looking at samples and biopsies under the microscope. Most pathologists do not perform autopsies. You can find out more about non-forensic pathologists here.