Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Death of the teaching autopsy

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 02 October 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:802
  1. Gregory O'Grady (, vice president (education)1
  1. 1 New Zealand Medical Students' Association, 55a Rugby Street, Mount Cook, Wellington, New Zealand
  • Accepted 14 July 2003

Curriculum pressures and a decline in hospital autopsy rates have reduced the opportunity for medical students to learn from autopsy findings

The use of autopsies to teach medical students has been falling worldwide over the past few decades. In 2002, however, Auckland, New Zealand, took the unprecedented step of legally prohibiting students from attending autopsy teaching, by barring them access to coronial autopsies. The decision means that students are denied a highly effective and popular learning resource and the autopsy is likely to decline further in clinical practice. The ultimate losers will be patients. This article examines the evidence supporting the relevance of autopsy in medical education and practice.

Auckland experience

Until recently, learning from autopsy was vibrant in Auckland. Many medical students from third year and above voluntarily attended daily autopsy teaching, and were enthusiastic about this method of learning. However, in early 2002, students were banned from attending coronial autopsies under an interpretation of New Zealand's Coroners Act. The decision was made in the environment following widespread media coverage of the discovery that children's hearts removed at autopsies had been retained for teaching without the family's consent in past decades.1 Media reporting of body organ retention has …

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