Support grows for virtual autopsies

It makes good sense to replace as many traditional autopsies as possible with noninvasive imaging alternatives, especially using CT when appropriate, according to a new report commissioned by the U.K.'s Department of Health.

In its report, the National Health Service (NHS) Implementation Sub-Group of the Department of Health's Post Mortem, chaired by Dr. Guy Rutty from the University of Leicester, advocated the more widespread adoption of postmortem cross-sectional imaging as an adjunct to, and sometimes replacement for, traditional autopsies. A single cross-sectional autopsy imaging service would be provided by the Department of Health in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and local authorities, the report stated.

Thirty mortuary-based imaging centers throughout England would offer the service, which could also include a national teaching and training program for professionals involved in providing the service, the report suggested.

An integrated service including radiology and pathology services would be based on a single cost to determine cause of death. Funded research would first be needed in order to provide an evidence base to increase the number of causes of death that could be determined noninvasively, according to the report.

CT, especially with contrast enhancement, is a promising alternative for discovering the cause of natural deaths, and noninvasive imaging would sidestep concerns by certain faiths that object to autopsy, the report stated.

The chief forensic pathologist to the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit (EMFPU) at the University of Leicester has pioneered research in noninvasive autopsy with CT in cases of sudden cardiac death, the report stated. The full report is available here.

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