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Pathology - Autopsy

On-call pathologist for autopsy service: 902-470-8888

Inquiries from funeral homes: 902-470-8285

Fax for autopsy documents: 902-470-8989


Autopsy Service 

The IWK Division of Anatomical Pathology provides consulting autopsy services for fetuses (terminations of pregnancy and intrauterine fetal demise), infants, and children.


Note: The Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service has jurisdiction over certain types of deaths in the province. Please see the Fatality Investigations Act ( or call the Medical Examiner Service at 902-424-2722 to determine if a death falls under their jurisdiction.


We accept cases from anywhere in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland & Labrador. The attending physician must consult the on-call pathologist via the IWK Switchboard at 902-470-8888. Transportation of remains must be organized by the referring institution.


The attending physician must obtain appropriate informed consent from the appropriate consent-giver. The consent-giver is the Substitute Decision Maker as defined in the Hospitals Act ( for the majority of deaths referable to the IWK Autopsy Service, the consent-giver is a parent of the deceased.


Options for post-mortem examinations include:

  • Complete post-mortem examination: This is an unrestricted external and internal examination, including (if clinically indicated):
    • External examination and photographs.
    • X-rays and/or other diagnostic imaging as indicated.
    • Detailed internal anatomical examination of all internal organs via a Y-shaped incision of the chest & abdomen ("autopsy").
    • Removal of the brain and spinal cord (via an ear-to-ear occipital incision and craniotomy); detailed examination of brain and spinal cord after several weeks of storage and fixation.
    • Removal of other whole organs requiring further examination; detailed examination after several days or weeks of storage and fixation.
    • Sampling of tissues from all organs for microscopic examination.
    • Sampling of tissues for chromosomal or genetic testing.
    • Storage of frozen tissue samples for potential future chromosomal or genetic testing.
    • Long-term archiving of tissue samples per usual hospital policies.
  • General post-mortem examination; no retention of whole organs: This option includes all components of the complete examination (above, if indicated) except:
    • No whole organs will be stored for later examination after fixation; this precludes detailed examination of the brian and spinal cord, which require longer-term fixation.
  • External only post-mortem examination: This examination does not involve opening the body or internal examination of organs. Instead, the following may be done:
    • External examination and photographs.
    • X-rays and/or other imaging as requested or indicated.
    • This option may include non-invasive tissue sampling (for example, from the umbilical cord) for genetic testing.
  • Directed post-mortem examination: If clinical indications and consent-giver preferences do not align with any of the options above, any specific components of the possible post-mortem examinations may be consented to or declined. For example:
    • Examination of thoracic organs only.
    • Examination of brain only.
    • Permission for post-mortem MRI of the brain only.
    • Complete post-mortem examination, with exclusion of genetic testing.