When families ask whether they should get an autopsy, what will you tell them?
When I was a nursing student at the University of Michigan, we learned anatomy by working on human cadavers. The experience left me with a deep appreciation for the beauty of the human body (even when ravaged by disease) and fundamentally shaped my view of a nurse’s role in health and healing.
The Viewpoint essay in the August issue of AJN, “When Families Ask About an Autopsy,” reemphasizes the role of the human body as a teaching tool. Author Billie Holladay Skelley points out that autopsies can also
- provide definitive answers about the cause of death (offering reassurance to family members).
- reveal undiagnosed genetic conditions.
- improve our understanding of diseases and disease trends.
- and foster advances in treatment.
Virtual or minimally invasive autopsies may be more acceptable to some families while still offering some of the benefits of a full autopsy.
New lab testing technologies and other advances are invaluable new tools, but autopsies—aided by some of these new technologies—offer insights that can only be gained by direct observation. (The author also considers potential reasons not to get an autopsy, including emotional and religious concerns as well as the cost of autopsies—sometimes paid for by the hospital, but rarely by insurance.)
Read the short essay, which is free, to learn more about autopsies, and what to say when families ask about them.