Code of practice for medical autopsies: a minimum standard position paper for pathology departments performing medical (hospital) autopsies in adults

Virchows Arch. 2022 Mar;480(3):509-517. doi: 10.1007/s00428-021-03242-y. Epub 2021 Dec 10.


The medical autopsy (also called hospital or clinical autopsy) is a highly specialised medical procedure, which requires professional expertise and suitably equipped facilities. To ensure high standards of performance, the Working Group of Autopsy Pathology of the European Society of Pathology (ESP) suggests a code of practice as a minimum standard for centres performing medical autopsies. The proposed standards exclusively address autopsies in adults, and not forensic autopsies, perinatal/or paediatric examinations. Minimum standards for organisation, standard of premises, and staffing conditions, as well as minimum requirements for level of expertise of the postmortem performing specialists, documentation, and turnaround times of the medical procedure, are presented. Medical autopsies should be performed by specialists in pathology, or by trainees under the supervision of such specialists. To maintain the required level of expertise, autopsies should be performed regularly and in a number that ensures the maintenance of good practice of all participating physicians. A minimum number of autopsies per dedicated pathologist in a centre should be at least 50, or as an average, at least one autopsy per working week. Forensic autopsies, but not paediatric/perinatal autopsies may be included in this number. Turnaround time for final reports should not exceed 3 weeks (14 working days) for autopsies without fixation of brain/spinal cord or other time-consuming additional examinations, and 6 weeks (30 working days) for those with fixation of brain/spinal cord or additional examinations.

Keywords: Autopsy; Guideline; Quality; Standards; Turnaround time.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autopsy
  • Child
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Pathologists*
  • Pathology*