A new study published today in leading medical journal, the Lancet, highlights how MRI post-mortems could be a viable alternative to the traditional autopsy. Sands has welcomed the study, saying it could lead to post mortem services that better meet the need of parents.

Sands said that giving parents the option to have a less invasive but equally informative investigation, will not only make the decision easier for parents, but could lead to an increase in post mortem up-take and vastly improved research into why so many babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth.

Charlotte Bevan, Sands Senior Research Officer, who consented to a post mortem for her own daughter when she died shortly after birth, said, “Consent for post mortem by definition has to be sought in the early hours after a baby’s death. In a state of shock and grief parents are asked if they will consent, and while they desperately want answers about why their baby died, many simply cannot contemplate what a post mortem entails and therefore refuse to go ahead.”

With 4,000 stillbirths and a further 2,500 deaths of babies under four weeks old every year in the UK, the quality of post mortem services affects a huge number of families. At present well over half of parents (55% of parents whose baby is stillborn and 80% of parents whose baby dies neonatally) refuse consent to a post mortem of their baby, despite evidence that post mortem investigations provide new and useful information in the majority of cases. For too many parents the potential benefits of autopsy are outweighed by their distress and concerns about the process. Health professionals too find seeking consent for post mortem one of the most challenging aspects of their work in caring for bereaved parents.

“We look forward to seeing this option for autopsy being made available to all bereaved parents as soon as possible. Equally important is the need to reduce the unacceptably long time parents have to wait for post mortem reports which currently can take as long as 3 months,” said Charlotte.

The study was led by Dr Sudhin Thayyil and Professor Andrew Taylor based at UCL (University College London) and Great Ormond Street Hospital.