Age and the declining rate of autopsy

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1986 Dec;34(12):865-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1986.tb07260.x.


To better understand declining autopsy rates, data have been gathered prospectively on 1080 consecutive deaths over six years among patients admitted to a medical intensive care/coronary care unit. Overall autopsy rate was 36%. Autopsy rates declined sharply with age from 60% for those aged 16 to 34 years to 23% for those 85 and over (P less than .001). The highest rates by diagnosis were aortic aneurysm (70%), hepatic failure (52%), heart rhythm disturbance (48%), pulmonary embolism (45%), and sepsis (41%). Patients receiving major procedures had a significantly higher autopsy rate (38 versus 29%, P less than .05) but rates bore little relation to prognoses given at admission by house officers, suddenness of death, sex, marital status or year of admission. Even among intensively treated patients, autopsy rates decline strikingly with age, demanding honest re-appraisal to restore the place of autopsy in medical education, clinical research, and quality of care assessment for an increasingly elderly population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autopsy*
  • Female
  • Geriatrics
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • United States