Determinants of the autopsy decision: A statistical analysis

Peter N. Nemetz, Cynthia Leibson, James M. Naessens, Mary Beard, Eric Tangalos, Leonard T. Kurland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Our goal was to use cross-sectional national mortality data to provide a multivariable statistical analysis of the factors that contribute to the decision of whether an autopsy will be performed. The identification of determinants of the autopsy is an important prerequisite for finding cost- effective alternatives for arresting or reversing the decline of autopsy rates in the circumstances in which the autopsy can continue to make a crucial contribution to clinical medicine and public health. The source of the data was 1986 National Center for Health Statistics (Washington, DC) mortality data tapes for Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington for the 1986 calendar year. Separate multiple logistic regressions were conducted on these data on a state-by-state basis, with a total of 139,063 individual mortality records as the unit of analysis. The dependent variable in all models was autopsy (yes/no). Odds ratios for selected explanatory variables were estimated for all four states, and the relative contribution of each explanatory variable was studied in a detailed analysis of one state. In general, the following independent variables had a statistically significant positive relationship with whether an autopsy will be performed: male sex; nonwhite ethnicity; death due to ill-defined or unknown cause; death due to accident, suicide, or homicide; presence of a nationally recognized medical center in the county of death; and death occurring in a standard metropolitan statistical area. In general, the following independent variables had a statistically significant negative relationship with whether an autopsy will be performed: older age at death; higher income level of the decedent; death in a nursing home; death at home; and residency in the county of death. The two most important variables influencing the autopsy decision were age at death (especially old age) and death due to accident, homicide, or suicide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-183
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of clinical pathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1997


  • Age
  • Autopsy
  • Cause of death
  • Income
  • Nursing home
  • Race
  • Sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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