BACKGROUND: The number of autopsies has been steadily declining worldwide over the past decades. The reasons for this are diverse. Legislation regarding opposition and consent rules does not appear to have had a significant impact on the autopsy rates. Above all, structural causes and the attitude of the medical profession are the reasons for this decline. The main argument for a high autopsy rate is the identification of diagnostic errors; however, diagnostic discrepancies are relatively independent of the rate of autopsies performed. At the University Hospital (UniversitätsSpital) Zurich it could be shown in a study that from 1972-2002 the frequency of relevant diagnostic discrepancies (classes I and II) decreased from 30% to 7%.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this article is to present the necessity of a stable autopsy rate and to examine the situation of the autopsy in Switzerland.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: For this purpose, the importance of autopsies in the fields of quality assurance of medical diagnostics, cancer statistics, medical research as well as further education of doctors in Switzerland is shown. Efforts are being made by the pathologists to counteract the declining autopsy rates.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Declining autopsy numbers have a significant influence on cancer statistics. The rate of newly discovered tumors in autopsies in Switzerland decreased from 42% in 1980 to 17% in 2010. Pediatric autopsies are an important tool for quality assurance of medical diagnostics in neonatology and pediatrics in Switzerland, but the rate of autopsies carried out is also declining. Postmortem magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations (virtopsy) could increase the acceptance of the parents for an autopsy in the future. Autopsies make an important contribution in research and in documentation of therapy-associated side effects and they are an important component of further education of the upcoming medical generations.