What is a digital autopsy?
A digital autopsy finds the cause of death with 3D imaging and computer software instead of a scalpel. From Leonardo da Vinci’s dissection table to 3D visualisations on a screen, post-mortems are undergoing a technical overhaul. From whether you think it’s an invasive procedure or you don’t care what happens to your body after you die, here’s a look at how digital autopsy might replace physical post-mortems.
How is a digital autopsy carried out?
A regular autopsy isn’t simply an operation. It means opening up a body, taking out all of the organs, cutting them up and analysing them individually. The post-mortem can then take up to 4 hours.
A digital autopsy sidesteps the cutting up bit, making the whole procedure more efficient. It uses a CT scan to map the body’s organs in a similar way to logging them all physically. The data from the scan is then processed to create a 3D, whole body reconstruction. From there, a normal analysis is carried out.
A 3D representation of a body, made up of approximately 3,400 slices of 0.5mm each, can be created in just over 3 minutes. It can then be saved like a regular file on computer, where a surgeon armed with what’s known as a virtual scalpel can peel away layers of skin, tissue and organ all from the comfort of a desk, cup of tea at the ready.
What’s the point of a digital autopsy?
Some of us don’t particularly care if our bodies are cut up and prodded once we’re dead. But others of us find the idea too invasive, and some of us have religious reasons for not being keen on the procedure.
Many researchers have voiced concerns that bodies are being unduly cut up – it was found that the majority of autopsies in England and Wales conclude death by natural causes. It’s thought that only around 25% of autopsies would benefit from a physical post-mortem.
Digital autopsies are also more precise; if it’s thought that the cause of death is related to the lungs, say, or the brain specifically, then a digital autopsy can solely take a look at lung pathology or a ruptured aneurysm.
Should digital autopsies be more freely available?
If it turns out that you need an autopsy to find out your cause of death, then it’s unlikely you’ll be offered a digital one.
Strangely enough, you can request a digital autopsy before you die, if it happens that you’ll need a post-mortem investigation. This request costs about £500, and it’s usually paid by your family. Unless, of course, post-death digital bank transfers are all the rage by then, too.
If you’d like to find out more about opting for a digital autopsy in the event you need a post mortem, then head to the Digital Autopsy page here. At the moment, you’ll find digital autopsy centres in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and West Bromwich.
Could digital autopsies lead to scientific breakthroughs?
Once a body undergoes a digital autopsy, a machine has access to every intimate image of its insides. The data collected can then be revisited, recreating a body, that can then be used forever.
A 3D corpse that hangs around long after its buried and decomposing six feet under can be used to improve understanding of disease, as well as be a data resource for future surgeons curious about the surprising deaths of 21st century bodies.
Find out more
Death isn’t just all about admin, probate and arranging a funeral. Take a look at our Digital Death page here to find out more about the digital side of death.
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How are robots and machines impacting on ageing, dying and healthcare? We take a look over on the blog here
Do you know about your data privacy rights after you die? Take a look at our article here