To describe parents' experience and views of the postmortem examination after the loss of a baby.
Cross sectional survey.
Hospital with a dedicated bereavement counselling service, Newcastle upon Tyne.
258 women who had attended a bereavement counselling service at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, on at least one occasion after losing a baby during pregnancy or infancy, between October 1996 and October 2000.
Self completion postal questionnaire incorporating fixed choice and open ended questions.
Main outcome measures
Number of respondents who were asked if they would agree to a postmortem examination of their baby, and number who agreed to a postmortem examination; reasons for agreeing and not agreeing to a postmortem examination; quality of explanation received; number who regretted their decision to give or withhold consent for a postmortem examination.
166 (64%) respondents completed the questionnaire. Of these, 148 (89%) had been asked to agree to a postmortem examination on their baby and 120/148 of these respondents (81%) agreed, most of whom recognised benefits resulting from the examination. 101/117 (86%) respondents believed the findings had been explained appropriately. Nine (7%) of the 120 respondents who had agreed to a postmortem examination regretted their decision. Of the respondents who refused an examination, four (14%) had regrets about their decision.
Parents viewed the postmortem examination as a useful and necessary tool in helping to discover the reasons why their baby had died. Simplifying the language used to explain findings may further raise parents' understanding of the value of the postmortem examination and ensure that they are satisfied with it. Medical staff involved in consent for postmortem examinations should be fully trained in how to ask for parental consent, the postmortem examination procedure, and how to explain the findings.
What is already known on this topic
Current literature relates mainly to health professionals' views of the postmortem examination
The perceived benefits of having a postmortem examination relate mainly to improving understanding of the circumstances leading to the death of the baby
What this study adds
Every family should be offered the opportunity for a postmortem examination
The benefits and limitations of the postmortem examination should be explained so that expectations of the outcome are appropriate
Medical concepts and terminology should be fully explained during follow up and families given the opportunity to ask questions at a later date if necessary