Policies and practices for post mortem examinations
It has been standard practice in medicine for many years to retain both whole and portions of body parts removed for the purpose of an autopsy for further pathological study, quality control or scientific purposes. This is lawful under the Human Tissue Act 1982. However, procedures for the retention of organs and tissues became of international concern to the public following enquiries into tissue collections held in the United Kindgom.
In light of these concerns, community awareness of autopsies increased and the need for greater consultation with families and more transparent processes became apparent. The following changes were made in Australia.
In November 2000, the then Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Dr Wooldridge, requested advice from an Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) subcommittee regarding issues relating to tissues and organs currently held by institutions from autopsies. The resulting Report, completed in August 2001, considers the auditing of retained tissues, requirements for institutions undertaking audits, and the managing of enquiries from the public.
The Victorian Working Party on the Retention, Use and Disposal of Tissue after Autopsy was established by the Department of Human Services, in January 2001, to undertake a review of current autopsy policies and practices in Victorian hospitals.
The Working Party developed: model Victorian Guidelines on requesting consent for non-coronial post-mortem examination; a model request form for non-coronial post-mortem (PM) examination; and information for next-of-kin regarding non-coronial post-mortems. These were forwarded to Victorian hospitals in July 2001.
In April 2002 the Australian Health Ministers’ Conference endorsed The National Code of Ethical Autopsy Practice adopted by all Australian Jurisdictions.