Intended for healthcare professionals


Use of mobile phones in hospitals

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 12 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:767

Resurgence in memorial post-mortem photography?

During a night shift I was called to confirm an expected death of an
elderly male patient on an open ward. The relatives were expecting a
doctor to come and they got up to temporarily leave the bay when they saw
me arrive. As they were leaving I noticed one of them quickly take a
picture of the deceased with his mobile phone. The patient had a
nasopharyngeal airway in situ and had not yet been cleaned by the nursing
staff. I thought it was slightly odd behaviour and mentioned it to a
colleague who said that she too had seen a relative taking a picture of a
recently deceased relative using a mobile phone.

Photographs of the deceased, particularly religious leaders, are
still taken and distributed in other parts of Europe but not, as far as I
am aware, in the UK. Memorial post-mortem photography was once popular in
Britain in the Victorian era but photographs were generally formalised
with the patient being dressed up and often having their family included
with them in the photograph. They were not candid shots of an unprepared
still warm body. Are the incidents witnessed above relatively isolated? Or
is the relatively covert and instant nature of the mobile phone camera
allowing people to respond to a stress in a way that comforts them, but
our society still deems unacceptable and morbid?

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

28 February 2009
Patrick B M Burch
Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE7 7DN