There are a number of advantages to choosing direct cremation, and being able to skip the embalming fluid is one of them. The immediate benefit is reducing the cost of funeral services since embalming costs $775 on average. There are also long-term benefits for everyone given that embalming fluid is hazardous for embalmers, and it can get into the soil and groundwater.
But there’s another lesser known reason for opting to forgo embalming fluid. Using embalming fluid can negatively impact an autopsy. Anyone who died under questionable circumstances that require an autopsy should never be embalmed first. Here’s why.
Why You Shouldn’t Embalm Before an Autopsy
An autopsy is performed to determine the cause of death. You might think that embalming would help the process since it preserves the body tissue. While this could be beneficial in some regards, embalming is known to create accuracy issues.
Embalming Alters the Look of the Body
Conducting a visual evaluation is an important part of the autopsy process. There’s a lot that a medical examiner can determine from the surface. In some cases, a physical exam without cutting into the body is enough to figure out the cause of death.
The embalming fluid itself can be dyed different colors to enhance the appearance of the deceased. That alone can skew a medical examiner’s observations. The appearance of tissue and organs can also change after embalming, making it difficult to accurately identify what led to death. Incisions from the autopsy and increased bruising can also create diagnostic problems.
Poisons Are Harder to Detect
If a person died due to poisoning, embalming could alter those findings. The reason for this is twofold. First, fluids that can be used for diagnosis are removed from the body. Secondly, the altered appearance of skin, tissue and organs makes diagnosing some types of poisoning difficult. It’s particularly problematic if organic poisons or alkaloids are involved in the death.
Legal Issues of Embalming Before an Autopsy
The problem of embalming before an autopsy is so serious it can lead to legal trouble. There are two legal issues that could come into play if a body is embalmed prior to an autopsy being performed.
Disappearance of Evidence
The biggest concern is that embalming is going to destroy or remove evidence. Embalmers are held accountable if this happens. It’s essentially considered tampering with evidence. Because the medical examiner is creating a medical report for an investigation, embalming first can be seen as giving false information to authorities.
Disrespect of the Corpse
Some legal entities believe that embalming before an autopsy is also disrespectful to the corpse. That too could come with legal charges.
The general consensus is embalming should be avoided when possible for financial, health and legal reasons. If the type of disposition being used is direct cremation the funeral home will coordinate with the medical examiner’s office to ensure they are able to conduct the autopsy first. If you have any questions about how the process works, give our team a call or text whenever it’s most convenient for you.