The autopsy: knowledge, attitude, and perceptions of doctors and relatives of the deceased

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2009 Jan;133(1):78-82. doi: 10.5858/133.1.78.


Context: Despite the crucial role that autopsy plays in the development of the science and practice of medicine, autopsy rates have been declining throughout the world in recent decades.

Objective: To identify factors influencing the acceptance of autopsies in Nigeria.

Design: Cross-sectional survey of the knowledge, attitude, and perceptions of doctors and relatives of deceased patients on factors influencing acceptance of autopsy at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria.

Results: Only 38% of relatives had satisfactory knowledge about autopsy and about 50% of doctors knew that physicians' desire for autopsy should not override patients' consent. Doctors identified difficulty in obtaining consent from relatives of deceased patients, administrative problems in requesting autopsy, and delay in obtaining autopsy report as major reasons responsible for the decline in autopsy requests, whereas relatives of the deceased cited fear of mutilation, concerns about delaying the funeral, and objection by the patient before death as reasons for refusal to grant permission for an autopsy. Sociodemographic factors such as age, occupation, religion, ethnicity, and level of education significantly influenced willingness to give consent for autopsy.

Conclusions: There is need for concerted effort on the part of clinicians, pathologists, the public, and the government to resuscitate and sustain the practice of autopsy in Nigeria.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Death
  • Autopsy / ethnology
  • Autopsy / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnicity / ethnology
  • Family / ethnology
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Hospitals, University*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nigeria / epidemiology
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires