Context: Autopsy is a useful tool for understanding the cause and manner of unexpected patient death. However, the attitudes of the general public and physicians in Japan about clinical autopsy are limited. Objective: To describe the beliefs of the general public about whether autopsy should be performed and ascertain if they would actually request one given specific clinical situations where patient death occurred with the additional variable of medical error. To compare these attitudes with previously obtained attitudes of physicians practising at Japanese teaching hospitals. Design, setting and participants: We conducted a cross-sectional study of the general public. We sent standardised questionnaires in 2010 to a randomly selected non-physician adult population using a survey company for participant selection. Respondents gave their opinions about the necessity of autopsy and how they might act given various clinical scenarios of patient death. We compared these results with those of a previous survey of Japanese physicians conducted in 2009. Results: Of the 2300 eligible general adult population, 1575 (68.5%) responded. The majority of the general public indicated they believed an autopsy was necessary. However, in cases of unclear medical error or unclear cause and effect relationship of medical care and patient death, the general public were much less likely to indicate they would actually request an autopsy than were physicians (p<0.0001). Currently in Japan the debate about the role autopsy should play in the case of error related to death is underway. The results from this study will be important in informing related decisions.
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