August 1994

Attitudes of Pediatricians and Pediatric Residents Toward Obtaining Permission for Autopsy

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Pediatrics, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey/New Jersey Medical School and Children's Hospital of New Jersey, Newark. Dr Castello is now with the Department of Pediatrics, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, NJ.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1994;148(8):843-847. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1994.02170080073014

Objective:  To investigate attending physician and resident attitudes and factors affecting autopsy consent.

Methods:  A validated, self-report, multiple-choice questionnaire was administered to 158 physicians.

Results:  The overall response rate was 113 (72%), with 57 (85%) of 67 pediatric residents and 51 (56%) of 91 attending physicians responding. The status of five respondents was unknown. Most respondents (98%) believed autopsies provide valuable information; physicians who had graduated before 1980 were more likely to believe that the benefits of autopsy should be taught (P≤.002). Autopsy was considered unnecessary by 20% (22/112) when the disease was known before death and by 11% (12/112) when the patient was designated "do not resuscitate." Physicians who did not attend an autopsy while in training were less likely to believe in the benefits of autopsy (P≤.02). Factors that influenced the failure to obtain consent for an autopsy were physician belief that the family felt the body would be desecrated (30/81 [37%]); physician belief that the family would be upset (36/104 [35%]); and physician belief that little information would be obtained (19/104 [18%]). Fourteen (17%) of 81 physicians indicated that they do not ask permission for autopsy if the family is upset.

Conclusion:  Most physicians believe autopsies have benefit. If the autopsy rate is to improve, physicians in training will require increased exposure to autopsies, education regarding the potential benefits, and enhancement of interpersonal skills for successful communication with families in crisis.(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1994;148:843-847)