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Deciding about a post mortem
A post mortem examination of your baby’s body and of the placenta (afterbirth) may help to find out why your baby died. Research suggests that post mortems find significant information about the cause of a baby’s death in 60–80% of cases. A post mortem may also discover whether there was a problem that could affect future pregnancies. Even if, as sometimes happens, a post mortem does not find a clear reason for your baby’s death, it may rule out some possible causes. Post mortems can also contribute to important research into why babies die, and so help prevent more deaths in the future.
In most cases, you will be asked whether you agree to a post mortem on your baby. A senior doctor, midwife or nurse will discuss the possible benefits of a post mortem and what may be discovered, and will explain what is involved and the choices you can make if you agree to a post mortem (see below). If your baby was stillborn, or if your baby died after birth and the cause of death is known, a post mortem examination on your baby only be carried out with your consent (called authorisation in Scotland). This is called a hospital post mortem.
It can be difficult to decide whether to have a post mortem. Many parents urgently want to find out the reasons for their baby’s death. Others are unsure, or want their baby to be left in peace. Some refuse a post mortem for religious reasons, while others agree in spite of religious teaching because they need to find out why their baby died.
If your baby died after birth and the cause of death is not known, the doctor looking after your baby must by law refer the case to a coroner (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or a procurator fiscal (in Scotland). He or she may order a post mortem and you do not have the right to refuse. This is called a coroner’s or procurator fiscal’s post mortem. The coroner’s or procurator fiscal’s officer will contact you to explain the procedure, and to make sure you understand why the post mortem was ordered. You will be given the results of the post mortem when it is completed. You may want to contact the neonatologist who looked after your baby to get a fuller explanation of the results and discuss any implications.
Click here to view or download a PDF of the Sands booklet Deciding about a post mortem: Information for parents. To get a free printed copy from the Sands shop, go to: http://shop-sands.org/shop/ , phone: 0845 6520 445, or email: shop(at)uk-sands.org .