Cochrane Summaries

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Interventions for supporting parents' decisions about autopsy after stillbirth

Horey D, Flenady V, Heazell AEP, Khong TY
Published Online: 
28 February 2013

Understanding the cause of a stillbirth is important to parents yet little is known how to help parents make difficult decisions about whether to have investigations carried out on their stillborn infant to help provide such information. These include autopsies, surgical investigations, imaging and other investigations. Information gained may help the bereaved parents to plan future pregnancies and assist in the management of these pregnancies. The findings would also add to research into the causes of stillbirth and the need to terminate pregnancies. Inadequate information and poor communication can lead some parents to avoid decisions or to regret making a decision not to have an autopsy examination.

The process for obtaining consent for such tests is difficult for both parents and health professionals so interventions that support decision-making are likely to be beneficial. Interventions of this type could ensure independent information is available to parents that may encourage discussion with health professionals and lead to greater involvement of parents in decision-making.

This review conducted an extensive search of the research literature but could find no randomised controlled studies that looked at interventions to support decision-making on autopsy or associated investigations. An additional search of 40 websites of parent and professional groups associated with an international stillbirth organisation found little information about autopsy or other relevant investigations. Parents who experience stillbirth need to know more about their options for investigating the cause of death. More research is needed to find how to support these difficult decisions in the best possible way.