Autopsy—Current Issues

Michael Soman, MD, MPH; Sara Faulkner, MD
JAMA. 1987;258(18):2525. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400180059009.
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To the Editor.—  A recent issue of JAMA contains a Council on Scientific Affairs report entitled "Autopsy: A Comprehensive Review of Current Issues."1 After noting the declining rate of autopsy over the past several decades, the report attempts both to identify the reasons for the decline and to make recommendations to promote the use of autopsy in medicine.We feel this review failed to recognize several issues regarding autopsy that have an impact on residency training. Residents are strongly encouraged by many attending physicians to obtain autopsies whenever possible. We have seen physicians mislead grieving families (telling them that an autopsy might help clarify the cause of death when this cause was known with near certainty) and intimidate families (with the idea that "it might be something genetic").Despite having heard all of the logical and intellectually satisfying arguments about why autopsies are desirable, many physicians have difficulty justifying


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