Permission for Autopsy–Granted*

Author and Disclosure Information


AUTOPSY is one of medicine’s most effective means to unveil medical mysteries. In the nineteenth century, for example, “generalized inflammation of the bowel” was a frequent cause of death. The precise nature of this disease was defined from the results of 446 autopsies, so that by the twentieth century the acutely inflamed appendix was removed before the onset of dangerous peritonitis.1 Untold millions of persons owe their lives to the relatives of the deceased patients who allowed those investigations to be made.

Insulin was discovered through the study of tissues obtained at autopsy. Degenerating islets of Langerhans were found in the pancreas of a patient dead of diabetes. In 1921, insulin was isolated2 from islets of Langerhans, and as a result today in the United States alone more than one million diabetic persons are able to lead relatively normal lives.

The primary purpose of an autopsy is to learn facts that will prevent the deaths of other persons having the same or similar conditions. To conduct an autopsy,’ legal permission must be obtained. To secure permission, a few facts, a little effort, and a deep personal belief in the good to be gained are all that are needed.3 During the past year there were 45 deaths on our service and 44 autopsies were conducted. How we secured permission to perform those autopsies, and what information was particularly instructive, form the basis of this paper.

Securing Permission for Autopsy

The frequency with which permission is secured for an autopsy depends greatly . . .



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