Page last updated November 21, 2003
By Gregory J. Davis,
MD and Carolyn H. Revercomb, MD
talking points for pathologists confronting legislation restricting use
of images include:
- Visual materials, including autopsy photographs,
are indispensable for teaching pathology, a highly visual science. (contrast
- Pathologists use autopsy images to teach emergency
response professionals, nurses, police, coroners, attorneys, physicians,
medical students and others. Without images these persons cannot be
taught to recognize communicable infectious diseases, abusive injury
patterns in the living and the dead, and other medical conditions with
important public health implications. For example, images are an important
aid for those learning to recognize syndromes caused by exposure to
chemical and biological terror agents.
- Without image-based teaching of first responders
and others, subtle injury patterns, such as those present in fatal electrocution
and strangulation, would be more often missed, and as a result accidental
deaths and even homicides could be under-investigated and ruled natural.
- Images can be and now generally are anonymized when
used in teaching. This protects the privacy of decedents and their families.
Potential broad release of photographs depicting highly publicized deaths,
while of concern, must not be equated or confused with legitimate medical
and scientific use of anonymized photographs from autopsies.
- Legislation restricting use of autopsy images can
and should specify exempted purposes for which anonymized images can
be used. (sample language: see Florida amendment)
- (The College of American Pathologists, a national
society representing 16,000 physicians, has adopted a policy governing
use of autopsy photos. The policy specifies purposes for which physicians
and coroners should lawfully be able to use autopsy photographs and
the requirements for anonymization of images.)