Intended for healthcare professionals


Viewing the body after a traumatic death

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 30 April 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2301
  1. Glennys Howarth, professor of health social sciences
  1. 1Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Cumberland Campus, C42, PO Box 170, Lidcombe, NSW 1825, Australia
  1. glennys.howarth{at}

    Relatives should be given the choice, and time to consider their decision

    Few research studies have tackled the question of whether people bereaved in sudden or traumatic circumstances should view the body of the deceased. The linked qualitative study by Chapple and Ziebland (doi:10.1136/bmj.c2032) found no hard and fast evidence about the therapeutic value of this practice, and their interviews with 80 respondents highlight a range of experiences and preferences.1 Above all else, their research shows how complex the subject is.

    Previous interview based research, psychological outcome measures, and expert opinion are conflicting, with some people arguing that viewing is necessarily conducive to healthy grieving,2 and others being more circumspect.3 Bereavement theories based on the notion that people move through stages of grief argue that a successful outcome depends on them accepting the reality of death before they can mentally and emotionally move back into their familiar world in a functional way. Those who, for one reason or another, become “stuck” in their grief have been considered at risk of pathological or …

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