In the most general sense, an autopsy is considered as an internal and external examination of a dead body with the aim of revealing the cause of death (Fernando 2008). There are usually two main purposes to conduct an autopsy: clinical and medico-legal or forensic. In the first, clinical context, the main objective of the autopsy is to discover how a patient has died, but it has been also present for decades as a crucial tool in the process of teaching and training medical students. Unlike the clinical autopsy, a medico-legal autopsy has multifold objectives including identification, estimation of the time of death, analysis of the injuries (identification, documentation, and assessment of their importance), identification of natural diseases, identification of poisons, and also an effect of medical treatments (Payne-James et al. 2014).
Almost a synonym for an autopsy and a main part of the procedure is dissection of a body, that can very often be inconvenient for a family of a deceased but also can be badly accepted or even forbidden in different cultural and religious backgrounds (Mohammed and Kharoshah 2014, Payne-James et al. 2014, Thali, Dirnhofer, and Vock 2009). Also, in some situations, an autopsy is performed when there is no objective need of performing it, whereas, on the other hand, sometimes it is not sufficient to perform an autopsy to obtain all information we need. Therefore, nowadays, many countries aim to introduce modem non-destructive imaging techniques commonly used in every-day diagnostic procedures that can not only provide a number of additional data but sometimes can even replace the conventional autopsy (Thali, Dirnhofer, and Vock 2009, Payne-James et al. 2014).
The most important term in the named type of postmortem imaging is the “virtual autopsy” (also known as virtopsy), coined by Prof. Richard Dirnhofer from Bern University http://www.wirtschaft.ch/trademarks/VIRTOPSY/Universitaet+Bern/Prof+Dr+R+Dirnhofer+Direktor/04728/2001/). This kind of autopsy uses 3D imaging of body as a possible alternative to the visual examination of the body. For internal examinations of the body, the virtopsy uses Multi-sliced computed tomography and/or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, whereas for other types of testing it can employ post-mortem angiography or biopsy using the robot. Like a traditional autopsy, the aim of the virtopsy is to assess injuries, cause, and manner of death, and identity. However, it has a potentially broad application in the era where numerous legal, ethical and religious issues raised upon the conventional autopsy.
There are numerous advantages of the presented approach. First of all, this is a nondestructive method, so relatives of a deceased person are more likely to accept this kind of post-mortem examination, especially because it surpasses many ethical and religious considerations. Besides that, in the contrast to the traditional autopsy, the acquisition of the data does not anymore dependent on one examination and examiner. Besides the fact that the collected data are standardized, the major benefit is a possibility to perform an “autopsy” an unlimited number of times, and in any part of the globe. Not only that it opens up the possibility of the international cooperation of various experts in the field but also enables reopening the case when the body is buried or cremated. Also, unlike the “classical” autopsy, the method can be partially applied also on the living victims, that is particularly useful for analyses when the injuries are healed (Bolliger and Thali 2015).