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A Policy for the Retention and Extended Examination of Organs at Autopsy

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Recent organ retention scandals and law suits have created a focus on the practice of saving postmortem tissues for extended examination or research purposes. The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) established a policy to notify families about organ retention and the subsequent disposition of the tissue. The OMI examined the success of this policy in regards to the retention of brains for extended examination by analyzing data abstracted from verbal consent forms from 2003 to 2006. During this time, 715 cases were identified as needing an extended examination of the brain. The percentages of brains saved in any given year, as a percent of the total number of autopsies performed that year, were: 2003 6.5%, 2004 10.4%, and 2005 11.8%. The disposition was cremation in 79% of cases, release with the body after a determined period of time in 14%, and cut fresh in 4%. In conclusion, the instigation of a policy on the verbal notification of the next of kin when organs are retained can be successfully implemented.
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Keywords: brain; extended examination; forensic science; organ retention

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, MSC11 6030, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131.

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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