What Medical Examiner’s and Coroner’s Offices Should Know about Molecular Autopsy

What Medical Examiner’s and Coroner’s Offices Should Know about Molecular Autopsy


December 2023


A molecular autopsy consists of “postmortem genetic testing of decedents who died naturally, suddenly, and unexpectedly at young ages.” Molecular autopsies can enable a more accurate determination of cause of death in cases where the scene investigation, medical records review, toxicological analysis, and autopsy procedures have yielded negative or inconclusive results or positive results that may indicate a genetic cause. Knowing which variants are detected in the decedent can help guide genetic counselor recommendations for future testing, including which relatives may be highest at risk because of the variants’ inheritance patterns, and assist physicians in providing more precise medical care and monitoring recommendations for patients who have a higher predisposition to develop conditions that cause sudden death.  

This brief identifies opportunities and benefits of using molecular autopsy techniques in casework, defines action items MEC offices should take to implement molecular autopsy techniques in casework, explains the challenges and provides solutions for implementing molecular autopsy, and showcases advancing research and molecular autopsy capabilities at MEC offices. 

Molecular autopsies, exemplifying precision in forensic medicine, save lives.

- Yingying Tang, M.D., Ph.D., DABMGG | New York City OCME Molecular Genetics Laboratory 

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence report was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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