by EmD, MD

“Suggested Monologue for Requesting an Autopsy from Next-of-Kin:

‘I am Dr. _______. I am sorry to inform you that _________ has just passed away. We believe the cause of death was ________. To help us better understand this disease, and to evaluate its effects on the body we seek your permission to perform an autopsy. The procedure may benefit other patients with this disease by helping us improve treatment. Sometimes diseases that run in families are found, and in those cases the family benefits by early diagnosis.

‘The autopsy will be performed in the Hospital. Physicians trained in the procedure will perform the autopsy.
The procedure usually takes about three hours. During an autopsy, surgical techniques are used, and the procedure will not affect viewing of the body at funeral. The face is not altered, even when the brain is examined…’”

This is from a pamphlet produced by my superiors, to be handed out to brand-new internal medicine interns as they start on July 1 every year. They might pull this out of their pockets at the bedside and read it to the sobbing wife just after the long-suffering cancer-riddled hubby has breathed his last. God, I hope not. Our “business” depends upon their finesse in introducing the idea of the autopsy to the grieving family. That idea is not comforting to me, having to rely on the motivation and interpersonal skills of other physicians. More often than not they screw us over. Maybe I’ll get into the Farce of Modern Medicine some other month.

For better or for worse, I recently became a full-fledged Doctor of Medicine. Most people don’t believe I’m really a doctor. Frankly, I don’t believe I’m really a doctor most of the time. When I graduated from medical school I chose the field of pathology as my specialty. This means I don’t see patients. Not live ones, anyway. I sometimes have to do things with live patients but even then there is minimal interaction. I prefer it that way, for a number of reasons. I am now a resident physician, which means I’m an MD but still in training. As a pathology resident I work in several areas. In surgical pathology, I get body parts from