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Getting consent for autopsies: who should ask what, and why?

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7311.521 (Published 01 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:521
  1. Gwen M Sayers, consultant physician,
  2. James Mair, senior house officer
  1. London
  2. London

    In the wake of the Alder Hey scandal, our trust, along with others, has produced a new and explicit consent form for autopsies.

    Forty years of custom dictates that we, as clinicians, approach relatives shortly after a patient's death in order to obtain consent for an autopsy. Our reason for the request is to ascertain definitively the cause of death, and so provide answers to diagnostic questions that we could not answer while the patient was still alive.

    Relatives are asked to consider tissues, fluids, and organs in the way that they might select football teams on a pools form

    The consent form immediately addresses this issue with a clause stating: “I understand that this examination is being carried out to verify the cause of death and study the reasons.” We make clear that, as part of this examination, small tissue samples or …

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