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A British government-commissioned report published today recommends CT and MRI as alternatives to the scalpel for conducting autopsies. That could mean significantly more work for radiologists.

The report carries the straightforward (if inelegant) title Can Cross-Sectional Imaging as an Adjunct and/or Alternative to the Invasive Autopsy Be Implemented Within the NHS? (The NHS is the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.) You can find the report here.

To its titular question, the report answers an emphatic “yes.” In summary, it says:

There are important religious, cultural, and humanitarian benefits offered by noninvasive autopsies, and it is recognised that there is no longer the need to undertake invasive autopsy examinations in certain types of death.

The report adds, “The current demand by the general public for a noninvasive autopsy service is expected to grow.”

The British Department of Health commissioned the report. The chair of the group that produced it is Guy Rutty, MD, chief forrensic pathologist to the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England.

To supplement, or sometimes replace, traditional autopsy, the report recommends CT for adults and MRI for fetuses, infants, and children. It notes that the shift to noninvasive, imaging-based autopsies is already under way across the UK, partly because of objections by some religious groups to cutting open a body.

“In all cases, at all sites the radiology reporting is undertaken by a radiologist,” the report says. In some areas of the UK, the radiologist also produces the autopsy report stating the cause of death.

“There is evidence to support, in certain types of death, a radiological approach be used instead of an invasive autopsy, but not in all cases,” the report says. It suggests “a roll out programme of cross-sectional imaging both as an adjunct to autopsy practice, particularly in unnatural death investigation, as well as a replacement in those areas where the evidence base supports this approach.”

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