A mortuary is a room, or area in a hospital or coroner’s office where bodies are kept for identification and autopsies. It can also be found in some funeral homes that offer full service burial and onsite cremation services.

In emergency situations where deaths occur beyond a locale’s regular morgue capacity, government agencies often requisition facilities and equipment like ice rinks to act as temporary morgues.


The most important part of the mortuary process is an autopsy, usually performed by a pathologist in a specially equipped room. A pathologist may also conduct an autopsy in the field at a crime scene, exhumation site or in makeshift arrangements organized in the wake of disasters.

An autopsy begins with a physical examination of the body that includes notes on height and weight, scars and surgical incisions. The pathologist also examines the contents of the stomach to determine when the person last ate.

After the organs are removed, the pathologist dissects them (cuts into them) to see if there are any abnormalities inside. Small samples of tissue are also taken for microscopic examination. The organs are then either returned to the body or preserved for teaching and research.

The benefits of an autopsy include confirmation of diagnoses for living relatives, information about hereditary conditions and assessment of the success or failure of medical treatments. A forensic autopsy can also help solve crimes and provide valuable data on disease processes for physicians, researchers and hospitals.

Preparation for Burial or Cremation

The decision of whether to bury or cremate a body greatly impacts the mortuary process. When a person chooses cremation, their loved ones can select a casket or container to hold the remains. This decision may also have legal and estate planning implications that need to be taken into consideration.

If the family chooses a burial, the funeral director may embalm the body to restore the appearance for a viewing or public service. He will remove any jewelry or other personal items and wash the body again. He will then dress the body, if desired. He will also make a small incision on the right side of the neck, which is where two of the largest circulatory vessels, the carotid artery and the jugular vein, are located.

A metal identification tag is placed on the body, which will remain with it throughout the cremation process. A few days later the cadaver is taken from the mortuary to the crematorium.

Arrangements for a Funeral or Memorial Service

When you meet with a funeral director to discuss arrangements, you can do so at the mortuary, your home or, in some cases, even by telephone. If you and the funeral director decide to make arrangements in person, you will be given a General Price List. You will also receive an Itemized Statement, which includes contractual language that legally obligates you to pay for the services you select.

Many families incorporate religious components into their ceremonies, choosing hymns, readings, a priest or pastor to lead the service and more. Some add a memorial video, personal memorabilia and other touches that help family and friends remember the deceased.

You may want to hold a reception at the funeral home or another location, and you will need to coordinate with food vendors, florists and other services providers. You’ll likely want to plan for a burial or cremation, as well. You can also choose whether to have a public or private service, and you can decide if you’d like to have a viewing.

Preparing a Body

Whether the deceased will be buried or cremated, the staff at the mortuary takes care of the body by washing it and preparing it for the final resting place. This may include putting on clothes, closing the eyes and mouth, and removing any jewelry that will not be worn at the service.

For burial, the mortuary staff prepares the body by putting on clothes and arranging them in a casket. They also take out any medical devices that will not be re-used and dispose of them. If the deceased was an organ donor, doctors will remove the donated organs before the body is buried.

A standalone morgue or mortuary typically only focuses on identifying and preparing the body. However, if the mortuary is attached to a funeral home, it can offer full-service options such as embalming, a meaningful funeral service and on-site burial. The funeral home will also provide caskets and memorial products. This helps families with the process and creates a meaningful final place for loved ones to come together to mourn.

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