A Comparison of Public Attitudes Toward Autopsy, Organ Donation, And Anatomic Dissection: A Swedish Survey

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Abstract

Objective

To evaluate people's reactions to procedures involving the dead body by comparing their attitudes toward autopsy, organ donation, and dissection.

Design

Survey, using a questionnaire with 24 items that address reactions toward autopsy, organ donation, and donation of the whole body, including religious and sociodemographic issues.

Participants

An age-stratified, random sample of 1950 individuals in Sweden, 18 to 75 years old. The response rate was 65%.

Results

Eighty-four percent reported acceptance of an autopsy for themselves and 80% for a close relative. Sixty-two percent were willing to donate their own organs and 39% to donate the organs of a family member; 15% accepted donation of their whole body for dissection. Practically all who accepted dissection also were willing to donate their organs and to be autopsied; practically all who were willing to donate their organs also accepted autopsy. About 65% to 70% felt some discomfort at the thought of autopsy and organ donation. Women seemed more sensitive toward operations on the dead body than men.

Conclusions

The rank order of medical procedures after death, based on the proportion of individuals positive toward the procedures, can be used to form a scale with autopsy and dissection at each end point and organ donation in the middle. This scale has the characteristics of a Guttman scale and can be looked on as a comfort-discomfort continuum regarding procedures involving the dead body.

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