A postmortem or autopsy is an examination of a dead body to determine the cause of death or, in some cases, to identify the dead person.

First, we have medical pathology, where someone dies while under treatment. This helps to tell exactly what the patient succumbed to.

Then there is forensic pathology to determine the cause of death of someone outside of hospitals, and mostly in criminal and civil cases.

First, pathologists gather all the information they can about the subject and the events leading to their demise and examine the location and circumstances of death.

The autopsy begins with a careful inspection of the body, including the clothes. This can help establish identity, locate evidence or suggest a cause of death. The pathologist then examines the skin, to see any injuries.

If a complete internal examination is called for, the pathologist begins with the chest and abdomen autopsy by making a Y-shaped incision, from each shoulder joint, to meet at mid-chest and continue to the pubic region.

The next step is to examine the organs, which means removing the rib cage.

The abdominal examination begins with a pathologist freeing the intestines by cutting along the attachment tissue with scissors or a scalpel. The pathologist examines all internal organs including the kidneys, lungs, liver, spleen and intestines.

If a brain autopsy is called for, the pathologist will make a cut across the crown of the head, and open the cranium using a special saw that cuts bone but leaves soft tissue unharmed.

Once each organ has been examined within the body, it is removed, weighed and examined in further detail.

Tissue samples are taken from the organs, some of which may also be sectioned, and stomach contents are frequently tested. Pathologists and lab technicians will also test bodily fluids for drugs, infection, chemical composition or genetic factors, depending on the purpose of the autopsy.

From this, you can determine what killed the person.

Pathologists will preserve parts of any organs they dissect, particularly if they find something unusual or abnormal.

Following examination, the organs can be returned to the body for burial.

Dr Geoffrey Mutuma, a former Chief Government Pathologist, is currently the director of Zambezi Cancer Hospital.