Who works at a morgue?

There are many people who work at an Institute of Forensic Medicine (morgue), from pathologists, to grief counsellors to administration personnel, but there are three main people who are involved in deciding whether an autopsy is carried out or in performing an autopsy.

John Abernethy - State Coroner

Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

The coroner

The coroner is a special magistrate associated with local courts. A coroner is legally trained and doesn't need to have a medical qualification.

In Australia it is the responsibility of the coroner to investigate the circumstances, and determine the manner and cause of death for cases that have been reported to them.

In some cases an autopsy will be necessary to determine the cause of death and this is conducted at the morgue associated with the local court.

New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia all have state coroners, in Tasmania the Chief Magistrate is in effect the state coroner, and the Northern Territory has a territorial coroner. Queensland doesn't have a state coronial system at present, but it is currently under review.

In New South Wales there are four fulltime coroners: the State Coroner, a Senior Deputy State Coroner and two Deputy State Coroners.

Forensic pathologists

Forensic pathologists are specialist medical doctors who have had advanced training in human anatomy, pathology and performing autopsies on people who die of trauma or injury.

For the most part the forensic pathologists deals with deaths that are natural deaths where the death is sudden and unexpected, or the cause is unknown. It is their job to determine the medical cause of death, and sometimes determine manner of death. They also weigh and take samples of body tissue and organs and analyse them and then report back the results and findings of the tests to the coroner.

Only a small percentage of all pathologists are forensic pathologists.

In capital cities a forensic pathologist attached to a state department or institute of forensic medicine performs the autopsy. In country areas a pathologist at a hospital in a large regional centre may perform the autopsy.

Forensic technicians

Forensic technicians work in the mortuary of a department or Institute of forensic medicine. Forensic technicians assist the forensic pathologist to perform the autopsy, they prepare the body for examination. They drain the fluids from the body, they perform the first incision which typically is a 'Y' incision and take all the organs from the body.

You don't require formal qualifications to be a forensic technician, but there is a Mortuary Science course you can do that will help.


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