It is often uncertain whether deaths that occur during active treatment for complications of AIDS result from diagnostic or therapeutic failure. Accurate diagnosis of infections is particularly important, and has relevance not only for the patient but also to partners, relatives, hospital staff and other patients. In the absence of adequate physical facilities and in view of the lack of success in obtaining formal autopsies in patients dying with AIDS, a limited autopsy protocol was devised for routine application at our hospital, beginning in 1989. The major aim of this protocol was to enable the safe collection of diagnostic material from patients who died despite active therapy, to ascertain unrecognized conditions and confirm existing diagnoses. We present findings from the first 16 limited autopsies which resulted in 12 additional diagnoses and a revision of the principal cause of death in 7 cases.