Alternative to an invasive post-mortem

Is it possible to do an MRI or CT scan as an alternative?

In some cases, it is possible to determine the cause of death by post mortem medical scanning if available in your area. This is known as a “non-invasive post mortem examination”.

If you want to explore the possibility of using a scan, let the Coroner know who will decide whether they will accept this.  In cases where there are suspicious circumstances or other special considerations, the Coroner may decline this request and order a full post mortem to gain extra information.

What the process will involve

Recent advances in computerised scanning means that internal examinations can now be carried out using a scanner that produces digital images that are then looked at by a doctor without needing to open the body.

A specially trained anatomical pathology technologist will receive the body at the mortuary along with a written report from the coroner’s office giving the brief circumstances of the death.  They will conduct an external examination and take photographs if necessary before preparing the body for scanning. 

Part of the non-invasive post-mortem involves scanning the blood vessels to look for abnormalities. To do this a small amount of dye has to be introduced into the coronary arteries by making small incisions. On occasions small amounts of tissues will be needed to confirm the cause of death which will also involve small incisions.

A Consultant Radiologist will examine the scan images and consider all of the other available information before providing a report to the coroner on the cause of death. Where the CT scan procedure reveals a medical cause of death an invasive autopsy will therefore, usually, have been avoided.

When and where the examination will take place

Post-mortem scanning takes place at a specialist center. Your coroner will have a list of places available. The nearest center to London is Oxford.  The scan usually takes place within 2-3 working days of death, there may also be a delay whilst arrangements are made to organize and book the scan.

Presence or representation at the scanning

The bereaved can be represented by a doctor of their choice at any post-mortem examination (invasive or non-invasive), although this is not normally necessary. You would have to pay any fee the doctor may charge. If you choose to be represented, you should advise the coroner straight away. The coroner’s office will then tell you when and where the examination will happen.


Depending on where you live, families may need to make their own arrangements with their chosen funeral director to transfer the body and also pay for the scan, as this may be not funded via the NHS or the coroner’s mortuary. There are however some local authorities who will cover all the costs. Please check with your local authority or coroner’s office.

Will a scan avoid an invasive post mortem?

A scan is not always suitable or useful, as there are many medical conditions that the imaging techniques do not pick up. On the occasions that a scan does not reveal the cause of death, an invasive post mortem examination will still be necessary.