Concerns have emerged in recent years with regard to the role to be played by the pathologist in reaching a final diagnosis. When considering the field of the congenitally malformed heart, it is true that the richness of detail now provided by imaging techniques is truly amazing. Alongside these developments, there has also been a significant decline in the number of autopsies performed in tertiary medial centres around the World. In this review, we consider some of the factors that have contributed to this decrease in autopsies, and review the reasons why strong steps should be taken to reverse this trend.
When considering the reasons for the decline in autopsies, there can be little doubt that the scandal devolving on inappropriate retention of organs, which came to light in the United Kingdom, but which had reverberations throughout the World, contributed in no small way to the reticence of families to grant appropriate permission to conduct a post-mortem examination. It is sincerely hoped that the changes in practise that followed these revelations will stop, and indeed reverse, this unfortunate decline. The inappropriate retention of organs came into the public domain in an attempt to emphasise the value of the autopsy in clinical practise, research, and education. All of these good reasons for performing the autopsy remain.
From the stance of education, we emphasise the importance of retaining existing archives, which have long since proved their value. From the stance of improving clinical practise, we reiterate that the attitude of the morphologist, working side-by-side with the clinician or surgeon, has always been fundamental in expanding this aspect of knowledge. We recognise, nonetheless, that performance of the autopsy still carries financial considerations. In this respect, when considering the congenitally malformed heart, we stress the option of having the pathologist working in harness with an experienced cardiac morphologist, or alternatively with a properly trained pathologist’s assistant. In terms of training, we show how, with the advantage of a few simple rules, it becomes an easy matter to describe and analyse the congenitally malformed heart. Thereafter, having reviewed means of increasing the number of autopsies, and discussing new techniques, we complete our review with a detailed account of the fetal, perinatal, and paediatric autopsy in the patients with a congenitally malformed heart, taking particular account of the role to be played by the properly trained pathologist’s assistant.