The term "autopsy" derives from the Latin for "seeing with your own eyes". "Necropsy" is from the Latin for "seeing a dead body".
During the post-mortem examination the body is opened and the main organs removed, weighed, inspected, and dissected. Pathology tests and other medical tests may also be performed.
The principal aim of an autopsy is to discover the cause of death, to determine the state of health of the person before they died, and whether any medical diagnosis and and treatment before death was appropriate. In the United States, the number of autopsies performed in hospitals has been decreasing every year since 1955. Critics, including pathologist and former JAMA editor George Lundberg have charges that the reuduction in autopsies is negatively affecting the care delivered in hopitals, because when mistakes result in death, they are often not investigated-- and learned from.
Where a person has given permission in advance of their death, autopsies may also be carried out for the purposes of medical research.