After a person dies in Virginia, Section 54.1-2973 of the state code empowers the following individuals to “authorize and consent to a postmortem examination and autopsy on a decedent’s body for the purpose of determining the cause of death of the decedent, for the advancement of medical or dental education and research, or for the general advancement of medical or dental science”:
- The spouse,
- An adult son or daughter,
- A parent,
- An adult brother or sister,
- A person who acted as a guardian of the deceased person at the time of the person’s death, and
- An individual who has legal authority to dispose of the body.
This list is ranked. In other words, a wife or husband has more authority to request an autopsy than does a child; a child has more authority than a parent; and so forth. Also, higher-ranked individuals can overrule lower-ranked individuals on decisions regarding the performance of an autopsy.