A mortuary is a place where autopsies are performed. It may be attached to a funeral home or a Department or Institute of Forensic Medicine.

Generally speaking, mortuaries are less-comfortable, bare-bones operations than full-service funeral homes. Some offer a curated selection of casket choices, lawn markers and upright monuments. Others provide assistance with online and newspaper obituaries.

Preparation of the Body

In our LinkedIn poll, 68% of respondents agreed that a mortuary is a place that stores and prepares bodies for cremation or burial. However, most standalone morgues do not have funeral directors on staff. Funeral homes, on the other hand, offer a full range of services in relation to memorialization and funerals.

This includes the preparation of the body by embalming, which is done by draining blood and injecting the corpse with a solution that slows down the decomposition process. They then wash the body and dress it in clothing that the family selects. They may also carry out cosmetic embalming to improve the deceased’s appearance.

A mortuary is usually refrigerated to prevent biological decay, and the bodies stored here are often awaiting identification, autopsy, respectful burial or cremation. A mortuary can be found in hospitals and some other public health facilities. The government has regulations for who can store and handle bodies.


The embalming process is a series of steps in which a mixture of preservatives, sanitizers and disinfectants are used to delay decomposition. This allows relatives to spend more time in the presence of their loved ones and gives mourners time to say goodbye.

Embalming is a popular choice for funerals as it can be an important step in the grieving process. However, it is not a requirement and can be avoided. In some cases, such as when a family chooses a natural or eco-friendly burial, it is not possible to embalm.

Before beginning the embalming process, the embalmer will verify that they have the correct body and review the medical certificate of death. Then they will place the body on the mortuary table in the supine anatomical position. After this the body will be washed. A tube is then inserted into the carotid artery and another into the jugular vein. The fluid is then pumped through the tubes and into the bloodstream, which circulates around the body.


Identifying the dead is a very sensitive task, and is often done in a private room. In films and on TV, the person identifying a body has to gasp as the sheet or bag is opened, but in real life, identification is much more discreet and consists of comparing photographs. Circumstantial evidence such as scars, birthmarks, and distinctive marks on clothing may also help to determine a person’s identity.

In mass fatality incidents such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, identification can be more difficult. In these cases, forensic facial reconstruction is used to attempt to reconstruct what the person looked like. This is a very delicate process that requires great skill and training.

Many families cannot travel to the mortuary to see their loved one, which can add to the stress of identification. In these circumstances, funeral homes can offer easyID to help ease this process. Using photographs to verify identity can save families time and money and allows the funeral home to complete the process in a comfortable location for the family.


Mortuary staff use a variety of tools for preparation of the body including cutting instruments. Sharps (scalpels, scissors and lancets) pose a significant hazard and should be placed in a proper disposal container. Usually, medical waste contractors can assist with this.

Depending on the culture, the final disposition process can include a burial or cremation. Some cultures bury their deceased in tombs either individually or as part of large tracts of land that house graveyards. Other cultures may store their dead in above-ground tombs such as mausoleums. In the event of a natural disaster or war, bodies are sometimes stored in mass graves or plague pits.

A mortuary’s responsibilities also involve facilitating families who wish to spend time with their deceased relative in a chapel or relatives room before removing them from the facility. This is a sensitive and important task for staff to perform. A good mortuary management team will ensure that family members are given the space and privacy they need to say their last farewells.

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