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J R Soc Med. 2008 Apr;101(4):177-81. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.2008.070479.

The conventional autopsy in modern medicine.

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  • 1Foundation Year 1 F1, Conquest Hospital Hastings, UK.


In many countries, including the UK, where relatives' consent is required, clinical autopsy rates (i.e. autopsies other than those required by law) have been declining since the 1950s. In the UK, even in teaching hospitals, the clinical autopsy rate has fallen to only 10% of deaths or less. At this rate of decline, clinical autopsies - and the pathologists who perform them - face extinction. The future practice of medicine will be blind to the many adverse consequences of clinical actions or omissions. The reasons for this decline are manifold and these have to be addressed if autopsy is to stand a chance of survival. The future of autopsy lies in promoting public support for autopsies, in some cases adapting the autopsy to address specific questions, thus making more effective use of information from autopsies. Only by ensuring that the next generation of doctors have experienced the powerful educational benefit of examining the body after death will the importance of autopsy to modern medicine be understood.

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