Academic Forensic Pathology

The Official Publication of the National Association of Medical Examiners

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Title: Recommendations for the Autopsy of an Infant Who Has Died Suddenly and Unexpectedly
Author(s): Pinneri KathrynMatshes Evan W.
Citation: Acad Forensic Pathol. 2017 Jun; 7(2):171-181.
Type: Invited Review
Keywords: Forensic pathology Pediatric forensic pathology Unexpected infant death SIDS Autopsy
Abstract: As the result of improved death scene investigations and the performance of more thorough and thoughtful pediatric forensic autopsies, there has been a widespread increase in the recognition of asphyxial mechanisms of death as well as lethal natural diseases that might have otherwise been erroneously labeled as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or sudden unexpected infant death (SUID). Although it is fair to state that “more thorough autopsies provide more thorough medical evidence” from which to draw upon when determining cause and manner of death, there is no standard, accepted baseline from which forensic pathologists operate. Although anatomic pathologists are quite accustomed to practicing within well-defined boundaries for specimen (and thus diagnostic) adequacy, forensic pathologists are frequently hesitant to embrace or adopt such concepts. This has made it difficult to evaluate standards of practice in forensic pathology. Recommendations have been developed and published by the National Association of Medical Examiners for the postmortem assessment of suspected infant head trauma. However, significant variation exists in the way autopsies are performed on infants without trauma, such as the common scenario of an infant who has died suddenly and unexpectedly of asphyxial or apparent natural means. A wide variety of autopsy techniques and ancillary studies are available to forensic pathologists, but as survey data indicates, are not consistently used throughout the United States. This paper will discuss the different components of the pediatric autopsy and make recommendations for the best use of available tests and consultation services.
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