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Halachically can one perform an autopsy on a Jewish body?

One one hand, the Talmud Sanhedrin 47a explains that the verses in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 we can learn that one must not delay a burial and cause any disfigurement to a corpse but on the other hand it could be useful in saving the lives of others if a post-mortem analysis is performed.

If it is indeed Assur, can exceptions be made?

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    I read this article a while ago....IIRC his conclusion was that it shouldn't be done, unless there is a real and present danger to a real person right now. – MTL Feb 9 '15 at 15:46
  • aish has this article about it. – sabbahillel Feb 10 '15 at 10:45
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This article lists several situations when autopsies may be performed. I shall list a few ideas mentioned:

  • The Torah itself states two people, namely Ya'akov and Yosef who were embalmed. The embalming process involved "disemboweling the body and filling the cavity with certain unguents." This was allowed because of kavod hamet - respect for the dead body. As it was not possible to bury Ya'akov or Yosef, immediately, embalmoing was a means to preserve the body for burial, later.

  • (Ḥul. 11b) clearly states that an autopsy may be performed on the victim of a murder in order to establish whether he was viable at the time of the assault. Were he not, no charge of murder could be laid against the assailant. This case would come within the framework of permissibility of pikku'aḥ nefesh.

  • As @Shokhet alluded in his above comment, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau of Prague ruled that an autopsy may be performed to reveal the cause of death if there is another known person suffering from the same malady that killed the first person. I.e. - if knowledge gained from the autopsy may preserve the life of another person immediately, the autopsy may be performed as this is a also a case of pikuach nefesh. There is a dispute if the autopsy may be perfomed to gain general medical knowledge.

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