The Post-mortem examination - Code of practice and standards  outlines all the necessary guidance.

Consent is a process and must not be rushed. Assist parents in understanding the post-mortem consent form – no parent ever considers this may be a choice they will have to make. Ensure you are familiar with the form. In a consented post-mortem, parents’ permission needs to be given for any tissue or organs to be retained for any purpose.

When requesting a post-mortem examination, explain to parents that it will be carried out respectfully. Parents need to know it will not usually affect their child’s face, hands or feet.

If a coroner orders a post-mortem when a death is sudden and unexpected, or of unknown cause, this is a legal requirement and parents are not asked for permission. But they need every bit as much support and information as to why the procedure is required, the likely timescales involved, and how the findings may help them understand why their child died. If possible, give the name of the pathologist and explain where their child will be taken for the post-mortem examination. Parents are likely to want to know the timescales involved and may ask about the possibility of seeing their child afterwards.

If parents do agree for any tissue or organs to be retained, you should recognise that every donation is a gift.

Key points

  • Always tell the truth and be factual
  • Be honest about what you don’t know
  • Explain that any post-mortem examination or autopsy will be done with care and respect
  • Parents may want to know whether they can see their child after post mortem
  • In hospital consented post-mortem examinations, organs and tissue may only be retained with permission. Give parents accurate information about this
  • When a coroner’s autopsy is required, parents are not asked for permission, but they do need support and information
  • Provide clear information about the coroner and post-mortem examination, and check parents’ understanding of what has been said
  • If uncertain, discuss the post-mortem and what may be needed with the pathologist
  • Your regional transplant coordinator will be able to provide you with information about organ donation.