Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Exhumation Definition:

The removal of human remains from a grave or vault for the purpose of examination.

Related Terms: Human Remains, Corpse

The disinterring of the body of a deceased person for the purposes of an investigation or an inquest.1

The American attorney's medical dictionary edited by Schmidt proposes that an exhumation is "the removal of a dead body from the grave, as for the purpose of determining the cause of death by autopsy in a suspicious case."

That is good as far as it goes but note that the example is just that, an example. There are quite readily other reasons for an exhumation that are not related to, for example, a criminal investigation as to the cause of death. It could be, for example, to harvest DNA from the remains of the deceased.

"Exhumation:  The removal from the grave or vault of the remains of a deceased person for the purpose of examination."

These were the words preferred by the editors of the Australian Legal Dictionary.

Note this caution of the New York Court of Appeals in Matter of Currier:

"The quiet of the grave, the repose of the dead, are not lightly to be disturbed. Good and substantial reasons must be shown before disinterment is to be sanctioned."


  • Cemeteries and Burial Sites Act, RSY 2002, c 25 [NOTE 1]
  • Matter of Currier [Woodlawn Cemetery], 300 N.Y. 162 (1949)
  • Nygh, Peter and Butt, Peter, Australian Legal Dictionary (Sydney: Butterworths, 1997), page 447
  • Schmidt, J. E., Attorney's Dictionary of Medicine (San Fransisco, LexisNexis, 2009), Volume 2, page E-236.

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