The halakhah does not generally permit autopsies, understanding these to be an affront to the honor due the dead and the integrity of the corpse.
There are, however, two exceptions.
If state authorities require an autopsy (when, for example, there is suspicion of foul play, or in a public health emergency), then Jewish law also permits it.
And when an autopsy could conceivably help to save another person’s life (for example, in a case where a puzzling disease continues to threaten living members of the family of the decedent), the procedure is also allowed (CJLS responsum of 1958 authored by Rabbi Isaac Klein and now published in the author’s Responsa and Halakhic Studies, pp. 42–52, cf. also my A Time to Be Born, A Time to Die [New York: The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1976], p. 23,).
Similarly, because organ transplants save lives, it is considered meritorious to donate one’s organs posthumously.
The CJLS (committee of Jewish Law and Standards) has addressed this topic for readers interested in learning more. There is also a brochure featuring information and a form for future organ donors to fill out available from the Rabbinical Assembly.
Adapted with permission from The Observant Life.