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March 29, 1965


JAMA. 1965;191(13):1078-1079. doi:10.1001/jama.1965.03080130038013

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In these days of unbounded optimism, when medical science promises to transcend every boundary and solve all problems, the autopsy frequently becomes a matter for discussion. Numerous letters to medical journals and the lay press emphasize the need for more autopsies and for greater lay education concerning their importance. The standard arguments are that autopsies help to solve the mysteries of disease; that they inform the medical practitioner about his diagnostic accuracy, and bring home to him his mistakes; that they improve the validity of medical statistics.

Unfortunately, the problems involved are not at all simple. We cannot make the unequivocal statement, "Autopsies are good, we must have more of them, and the more autopsies we have the better is our level of medicine." A more searching analysis is desirable.

What is an autopsy? "The dissection of a dead body to determine the nature of disease," is actually a secondary

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