National Association of Chevra Kadisha

How Do We Deal With Autopsies at a Tahara?

Generally, autopsies are prohibited by Jewish law. While some states have passed laws or regulations that require accommodation of an objection to autopsy on religious grounds, it is both wise and responsible for a rabbi, a member of the chevra kadisha, or a representative of some Jewish organization to maintain a working relationship with the Medical Examiner (ME) to address any autopsy issues that may arise. When an autopsy cannot be avoided, the ME should be encouraged to follow The NASCK Guidelines for Autopsy.

QUESTION

What should be done when an autopsied body is delivered with an open incision in the skull or chest, or an incision that is closed with just a few stitches?

ANSWER

In such cases, the tahara process is impossible, since blood would be lost. Even washing or dressing in tachrichim may be near impossible. The funeral director should therefore be asked to suture the incision, and close it tightly, making it as leak-proof as possible. This may allow for at least an abbreviated tahara process and greater kavod hameis. If there is a Jew on staff who is able to do this equally well, it is best if it is done by a Jew.

QUESTION

What are best practices for a tahara on an autopsied body?

ANSWER

  • Place a plastic-lined blue pad (chuck) under the head as soon as the body is on the table. This will catch and contain any blood which may flow from the head or the hair.
  • If possible, the nifter should be cleaned of all blood that is on the body. The best way to accomplish this is to cut a sheet into six or eight square or rectangular cloths. Do not cut the sheet into strips. 
  • Clean wet blood by using a dry cloth. Then use a damp cloth to remove any remaining blood. Alternate dry and damp cloths, as many times as required to remove all traces of blood. It is important that damp cloths be wrung out well, so that no water is dripping from them. All cloths with blood on them should be placed at the foot of the aron, making sure they will not soil the tachrichim. 
  • When the body is completely cleaned of blood, a blue pad can be placed over the Y-cut incision in the chest and taped down, allowing tishah kabin to be poured — assuming no blood at all will be lost in the process. Similarly, a shower cap, or a blue pad cut and fashioned into a bonnet, tightly
    held in place with tape over the entire back of the head, can allow for the pouring of tishah kabin, if you are sure no blood will be lost. 
  • Never put an autopsied body in the mikvah, as it is impossible to do so without the possibility of losing blood. 
  • In all cases of autopsy that include a chest incision:
    A. Do not pack the rectum. If necessary, clean externally and place Webril in the fold of the buttocks, but do not penetrate. As a precaution against soiling the tachrichim, a blue pad should be used as a diaper before the body is dressed.
    B. Do not lift the legs more than absolutely necessary when dressing or placing in the aron. Doing so puts pressure on the lower abdomen and could cause heavy rectal bleeding.

Save everything that has blood on it, including your own gloves, and place them at the foot of the aron, making sure they will not soil the tachrichim

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