MRI scans make baby autopsies more 'acceptable'

accreditation
iStock

Bereaved parents who do not want to see their dead babies go through a conventional autopsy could in future be offered a less invasive option which uses magnetic resonance imaging and blood tests to establish the cause of death.

Scientists who investigated using a combination of full body scans and sample tests found this so-called minimally invasive autopsy (MIA) was as effective in determining the cause of death as a conventional procedure, which involves an open dissection of the baby's body to examine the organs.

Since the vast majority of parents whose babies die during or soon after birth currently refuse any autopsy, the researchers suggested the MIA could both improve rates of uptake and reduce parents' distress while offering clear answers.

"Autopsies not only help us to establish the cause of death, but they often play an important role in advancing medical research and knowledge," said Andrew Taylor, a consultant radiologist at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College Hospital who co-led the study. "If we can find ways to continue to carry them out using less invasive methods, such as post-mortem MRI, we can boost our understanding of the many ways in which the body can go wrong."

In a study published in the journal the Lancet, Taylor and colleague Sudhin Thayyil, a consultant neonatologist, compared the accuracy of a standard autopsy with that of whole-body, post-mortem MRI with or without other minimally invasive tests.

These included blood samples taken by needle, visual examination of the body and genetic and metabolic tests.

Options makes it easier

The study involved 400 cases foetuses, babies and children under 16 years old. For foetuses and babies younger than a year, the MIA identified the same cause of death as the full autopsy for 92% of the cases studied, while in children aged one to 16, the MIA techniques were less accurate, with 54% of the two types of autopsies agreeing on cause of death.

The researchers said the difference in accuracy was probably because MRI was good at picking up abnormalities in organ structure or function, which are more likely to be causes of death in young babies, but unable to detect infections, which are more likely to be a cause of death in older children.

Experts say that currently in Britain, some 80% parents whose baby dies shortly after birth refuse consent for a post mortem. This is despite evidence that autopsies find new and useful information in the majority of cases.

In the United States, Thayyil said, rates of autopsy in babies are even lower. "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," said Charlotte Bevan of Sands, a charity that campaigns for more research into stillbirth and neonatal death.

"Giving parents the option to have a less invasive but equally informative investigation will not only make the decision easier 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."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Eskom has considered continuous load shedding at Stage 2, instead of introducing it when the power system faces a crunch. What are your thoughts?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
I'm all for it - we're going to have power cuts regardless, so we might as well have some stability to better plan our lives
45% - 4156 votes
No thanks! I prefer having periods of no load shedding and we cannot normalise this crisis
55% - 5021 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
17.93
-1.8%
Rand - Pound
19.45
-0.0%
Rand - Euro
17.37
-0.0%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.70
-0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.0%
Gold
1,643.66
0.0%
Silver
18.87
0.0%
Palladium
2,073.00
0.0%
Platinum
858.50
0.0%
Brent Crude
86.15
-5.0%
Top 40
57,110
-3.1%
All Share
63,417
-2.9%
Resource 10
56,319
-7.5%
Industrial 25
78,436
-1.2%
Financial 15
14,142
-1.6%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE