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April 1986


Am J Dis Child. 1986;140(4):335. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1986.02140180069027

"Dr K. didn't ask the parents for an autopsy. He knew why the baby died." This comment, made from one medical student to another in a hospital elevator recently, jolted me out of complacency. I am a pediatric pathologist and know from experience that every postmortem examination in an infant or child yields benefits far beyond establishing the cause of death. At our hospital and many other tertiary care centers, the perinatal and pediatric autopsy rate has held steady between 80% to 90%; the overall US autopsy rate is only 14% today. The rate at many community hospitals is even lower.

In all fairness, Dr K. probably did have a fairly accurate idea of the major disease process that led to the death of his patient. Modern laboratory, radiologic, biopsy, and cardiac diagnostic techniques have increased accuracy, but we must remember that people order and interpret

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