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Who Can Authorize an Autopsy Under Illinois Law?

Who Can Authorize an Autopsy Under Illinois Law?

Under the Illinois Autopsy Act the following persons may authorize an autopsy:

  • The Decedent, with written instructions (before death, obviously);
  • An agent of the Decedent under a Power of Attorney for Health Care, also known as a health care proxy, by way of written instruction;
  • A written authorization from a surviving relative, next of kin, or other person who has the right to determine the method for disposing of the body;
  • A telephonic authorization from (i) a surviving relative who has the right to determine the method for disposing of the body or a next of kin or other person who has such right or (ii) an agent of the decedent as authorized by the decedent under the Powers of Attorney for Health Care Law, provided, the telephonic authorization is verified, in writing, by at least 2 persons who were present at the time and place the authorization was received.

Who Can Object to an Autopsy?

Any person with an equal right to authorize an autopsy in Illinois may object to an autopsy, in which case an authorization to perform an autopsy is insufficient.

With respect to religious-based treatment, the Illinois Autopsy Act provides as follows:

The provisions of this Act shall not apply to a case of death without attendance by a physician, where the decedent was under treatment by a duly authorized practitioner of a recognized church or religious denomination which relies upon prayer or spiritual means alone for healing.

When is an Autopsy Required Under Illinois Law?

Sometimes it does not matter who can authorize an autopsy under Illinois law, because an autopsy is required.  Therefore, no authorization to perform the autopsy is needed.  Pursuant to 55 ILCS 5/3-3013,

Every coroner, whenever, as soon as he knows or is informed that the dead body of any person is found, or lying within his county, whose death is suspected of being:

(a) A sudden or violent death, whether apparently suicidal, homicidal or accidental, including but not limited to deaths apparently caused or contributed to by thermal, traumatic, chemical, electrical or radiational injury, or a complication of any of them, or by drowning or suffocation, or as a result of domestic violence as defined in the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986;
(b) A death due to a sex crime;
(c) A death where the circumstances are suspicious, obscure, mysterious or otherwise unexplained or where, in the written opinion of the attending physician, the cause of death is not determined;
(d) A death where addiction to alcohol or to any drug may have been a contributory cause; or
(e) A death where the decedent was not attended by a licensed physician;

shall go to the place where the dead body is, and take charge of the same and shall make a preliminary investigation into the circumstances of the death. In the case of death without attendance by a licensed physician the body may be moved with the coroner’s consent from the place of death to a mortuary in the same county. Coroners in their discretion shall notify such physician as is designated in accordance with Section 3-3014 to attempt to ascertain the cause of death, either by autopsy or otherwise.