Background: Interviews with neonatologists in a related study had revealed a degree of discomfort with approaching bereaved parents for postmortem examinations (PMs) and a widespread concern that parents should not be further distressed or feel under pressure to consent.
Objective: To report the attitudes of bereaved parents to trial related perinatal PMs, in the light of declining perinatal PM rates and poor levels of participation in pathology studies.
Methods: A qualitative study was carried out, using semistructured interviews. The study involved 11 interviews with 18 bereaved parents from five UK neonatal units. The parents had consented to the enrolment of their baby in one of two neonatal trials.
Results: The data provide support for the careful approach described by neonatologists in a related study, but also suggest that it may be possible to approach more parents without undermining their wellbeing. The interviews show the variety of reactions to PMs that one would expect, from parents who were clear that they did not want a PM to others who felt that they needed the information from the examination. Between these extremes were parents who were initially discomforted by the idea but who then made the decision to go ahead. Parents who elected to have a PM did so for their own needs, or to contribute to a trial, or for both reasons. The fact that the subject was raised was generally not seen as inappropriate, and none stated that they felt that they were actually pressured into making their decision. The data also suggest that for some parents the degree of caution and selectivity exercised by the neonatologists may not be entirely appropriate. In two cases, consent for the PM was driven by a sense of making an altruistic contribution to research, and, in another two, altruism was expressed in the context of their own desire for information from a PM.
Conclusions: It is important to determine whether trial related pathology studies are considered by professionals and lay people to be worth while and feasible. If there is support for such studies, the challenge is to develop the means to approach more parents in the most sensitive way.