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Value of the Autopsy

Valery A. Portnoi, MD
JAMA. 1980;243(11):1132-1133. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03300370012009.
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To the Editor.—  In their article "The Autopsy: Past, Present, and Future," Anderson and coauthors (242:1056, 1979) address an important issue: the unjustifiable and perhaps dangerous decline in the rate of autopsy and its role as focal point in the research, patient care, and educational activity of the hospital. This is particularly true regarding care of the elderly and related research.Studies show that the autopsy rate decreases with the age of the deceased. With regard to cause of this decline, investigators have stated that "Americans are satisfied with 70 years as a normal life span, both physicians and laymen feel no urgency in finding more about the cause of death in persons beyond this age."1 Death is an expected event for those of advanced age; it is perceived as an essential natural course of aging.In a discussion on aging that incidentally follows a discussion on incurability and death,


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