Requesting necropsies

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7093.1499 (Published 24 May 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1499

Greater humanity and awareness of suffering will help doctors and patients alike

  1. Jane Turner, Senior lecturera,
  2. Beverley Raphael, Director of mental healthb
  1. a Mental Health Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, Queensland 4029, Australia
  2. b Centre of Mental Health, New South Wales Department of Health, Locked Bag 961, Sydney 2060, Australia

    As medicine increasingly acknowledges and even welcomes the active participation of patients and their families in medical care, it is timely to investigate the attitudes of relatives towards necropsies. Any request for a necropsy is necessarily conducted at a time of greatest grief, distress, and uncertainty; and those deaths where a necropsy is required are often those where the bereavement is sudden or otherwise traumatic, and thus likely to be associated with shock, denial, and dissociation. The relatives' mental state is likely to make the request more difficult to deal with and the ultimate outcome of the loss more problematic.1 Thus, requests may be countered with anger, resentment, or rejection.

    Attitudes towards necropsy are shaped by personal and cultural …

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