Letters

Getting consent for necropsies

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7326.1426 (Published 15 December 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1426

Perhaps we should seek consent to show necropsies to students

  1. Julian L Burton (j.l.burton@shef.ac.uk), clinical lecturer in histopathology
  1. Academic Unit of Pathology, Medical School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2RX
  2. Royal London Hospital, London E1 1BB
  3. Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicester LE1 5WW

    EDITOR—Sayers and Mair highlight the reasons for which hospital (consent) necropsies are performed and for which clinicians are now faced with the task of seeking informed consent—to confirm the cause of death, to answer diagnostic queries, and to obtain and retain material for research and teaching.1 Another key use of a necropsy, not mentioned on the consent form, is in undergraduate teaching. Many medical students will encounter the necropsy during their training, either witnessing the whole procedure or as a demonstration of the pathological findings of the procedure in which organs and tissues are displayed (perhaps with the patient's body in the background) before their return to the body.

    Should explicit informed consent be obtained to use necropsy in this way? The short report by Westberg et al in the same issue serves to highlight the importance of obtaining consent for students to witness invasive procedures such as a vaginal examination, even though most patients do not object.2 Necropsy is no less invasive. Whether patients and relatives would object to a group of students viewing the body after death is not known. It is established, however, that “an important precondition for good education of medical students is that patients are prepared to participate in training.” …

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