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It is clear that the consented hospital autopsy, designed to answer questions of pathology in the days before modern investigations, has all but disappeared.1 ,2 The situation was likely hastened by the scandals at Alder Hey and Bristol.3 Yet, one of the notable modulations to the consent autopsy work, appearing in the last 10 years, has been the sensitive evolution/enhancement to the consent form which allows relatives to define areas that may/may not be examined postmortem. In this regard, the thorax and abdomen appear often to be acceptable, more so than cranial tissues.
This falling rate of UK consent autopsies leaves (aside from forensic cases) the coroner's autopsy as the mainstay of autopsy pathology—being largely unchanged practice for at least the last century. Its very foundation lies in the systematic examination of external and internal body tissues, with appropriate samples for specialist investigations.4 Many proponents of the autopsy maintain that the only reliable autopsy is the ‘full’ autopsy, and in this regard most coroner's autopsies examine head, thorax and abdomen as the standard; with additional tests (toxicology, microbiology, serology and so on) on occasion.5 ,6
However, the coroner's autopsy examination remit is broad, allowing pathologists to define which …