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Looking Back

Postmortems on the kitchen table

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 22 December 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1472
  1. Arthur Hollman, retired cardiologist
  1. Sea Bank, Pett, East Sussex, TN35 4EQ

    My interest in home postmortem examinations began when the cardiologist Sir John Parkinson1 gave me his portable postmortem set. Parkinson bought the set in 1914, when he worked as first assistant to Sir James Mackenzie at the London Hospital,2 because Mackenzie said that it would be useful for doing postmortem examinations in patients' homes. Shortly before his death from angina pectoris, Mackenzie told Parkinson that he wanted his heart removed for study. Parkinson did the postmortem examination in the bathroom of Mackenzie's flat.3

    As there is little published on home postmortem examinations, I wrote a letter to the Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners asking for more information. This article is based on the replies I received and the recollections of Professor Bruce Perry, a physician from Bristol.

    Summary points

    Postmortem examinations in the home were uncommon

    General practitioners recall home postmortem examinations occurring up until the middle of the last century

    Home postmortem examinations have been recorded as early as 1802

    Embedded Image

    Sir James Mackenzie (1853–1925)

    Experiences of general practitioners

    The letters I received from general practitioners show that home postmortem examinations were done until at least the 1960s, although they were not that common. Dr Colin Mann wrote with details of how his father, Dr Alan Mann, had assisted his senior partner to do a postmortem examination in a patient's house in 1921. The place was very poor, the bedroom being upstairs and accessible only …

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