An autopsy is an examination of a person’s body after death for the purpose of determining the actual cause of death. In many cases, the autopsy can produce painful truths such as the fact that a person’s cancer was misdiagnosed or that it likely could have been diagnosed at a much earlier stage.
For instance, a person complaining of painful urination may have been diagnosed with a urinary tract infection.
However, an autopsy may reveal that, in fact, the person had been suffering for years from bladder cancer that, due to the missed diagnosis, went untreated.
In this sense, autopsies can play an important role in helping to prevent misdiagnoses of cancer and other illnesses. Autopsies can:
Unfortunately, as a recent article in New Scientist points out, the medical community is increasingly turned its back on autopsies.
In the article, New Scientist reports on a study by United Kingdom researchers on the use of autopsies. The researchers examined autopsy rates in 2013 from 184 of the UK’s National Health Service trusts, which are units within the country’s national health care system.
The survey found that, on average, hospitals conducted autopsies in only 0.69 percent of hospital deaths, or less than 1 percent. This is shockingly low when one considers that, in 1960, 40 percent of hospital deaths in the UK were autopsied.
Fewer autopsies are being performed in the U.S. as well. In 2012, American Medical News reported on this disturbing trend. In the article, the newspaper noted that, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
A forensic pathologist told the newspaper that the medical community – and, as a result, patients – suffer when fewer autopsies are performed.
“The autopsy has long been and remains the gold standard for confirming or ruling out diagnoses and plays an integral role in promoting the public health,” the pathologist told American Medical News.
The New Scientist and American Medical News articles point to potential reasons why autopsies are on the decline. These reasons include:
An investigation by ProPublica, National Public Radio and the PBS “Frontline” program in 2011 found reason to be concerned with the small number of autopsies that are being performed.
The investigation revealed that, among the 70 of the largest coroner and medical examiner systems in the U.S., roughly 20 percent of those conducting autopsies lacked certification in forensic pathology – meaning there was no assurance that they have basic skills to do their work.
As we have found in our representation of those who have lost loved ones due to suspected medical errors, most families want autopsies to be performed. This is because they want to know the truth – and they want justice. They also want others to be spared the same fate.
If you believe that your loved one died due to a delayed or missed diagnosis of cancer, contact the medical malpractice lawyers of Powers & Santola, LLP, to learn more about your right to have the death thoroughly investigated.
We bring several decades of combined legal experience to bear in cases involving suspected cancer misdiagnosis. We can work with investigators and experts, including forensic pathologists, to seek the answers you deserve.
Simply call or contact us online today for a consultation about your case.