College of American Pathologists
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  Use of Images Talking Points


Page last updated November 21, 2003

By Gregory J. Davis, MD and Carolyn H. Revercomb, MD

Major 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 with law)
  • 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.)

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