The people with the power to authorize an autopsy under Florida law are:
- Health care surrogate;
- Next of Kin
- Person who has assumed custody of the body
While individuals are increasingly planning for death and incapacity by making living wills and detailing their burial and funeral preferences in writing, the potential for discord under these trying circumstances remains, particularly as it relates to the decision to order an autopsy.
When Is An Autopsy Required?
An autopsy involves post-death dissection of the body in order to determine the cause, seat, or nature of disease or injury. In certain limited circumstances in Florida, autopsies are mandatory or can be made mandatory at the request of a government official, meaning that no one needs to authorize the autopsy.
Examples include those situations where death occurs as a result of vehicle or other accident, or where negligent or criminal conduct is suspected. See, e.g., Fla. Stat §§ 383.3362, 406.11(1)(a), 925.09. However, in most circumstances, an autopsy is not required under Florida law. Because autopsies are predominantly the product of voluntary election, the threshold question becomes: Who has the ability to authorize an autopsy?
Who Can Authorize An Autopsy Under Florida Law?
In Florida, any individual who is designated as a health care surrogate under Florida law has the power to authorize an autopsy under Florida law. Specifically, Fla. Stat. § 872.04(2) states that:
Unless otherwise authorized by statute, no autopsy shall be performed without the written consent by the health care surrogate, as provided in s. 765.202, if one has been designated. If a health care surrogate has not been designated, then written consent may be provided by the spouse, nearest relative, or, if no such next of kin can be found, the person who has assumed custody of the body for purposes of burial. When two or more persons assume custody of the body for such purposes, then the consent of any one of them shall be sufficient to authorize the autopsy.
If, after diligent search, no such individual exists or comes forward to authorize the autopsy, an autopsy may be ordered within a reasonable time (defined as 48 to 72 hours after death) by any person licensed to practice medicine in Florida whose practice involves the usual performance of autopsies. Fla. Stat. § 872.04(4).