Background and objective: : Today clinico-pathological autopsies serve as a measure of quality assurance in clinical medicine. Furthermore reliable information on the distribution of different causes of death can only be gained by a significant autopsy rate. Medicolegal autopsies are essential for the discovery of non-natural or violent deaths. This study provides information on changes in clinico-pathological and medicolegal autopsy rates between 1994 and 1999.
Methods: : A survey of autopsy rates in 1994 and 1999 was undertaken covering all German pathological and medicolegal institutes. The autopsy figures of the different states were analysed separately. Most autopsies performed in pathological institutes were clinico-pathological autopsies and almost all autopsies performed in Institutes of Legal Medicine were medicolegal autopsies.
Results: Between 1994 and 1999 the frequency of clinico-pathological autopsies decreased from about 4 % to 3 % of all deaths. The medicolegal autopsy rate remained stable on a low level at about 2 %. The differences between various states are up to 4-fold for clinico-pathological autopsies and up to 5-fold for medicolegal autopsies.
Conclusions: : The autopsy rates in Germany are frighteningly low compared to other European countries. Considering the dramatic decline of clinico-pathological autopsy rates the role of the post-mortem examination as a control of clinical medicine and death statistics cannot be fulfilled properly. The low medicolegal autopsy rate is responsible for the high number of undetected non-natural or violent deaths.