Understanding mothers’ decision-making needs for autopsy consent after stillbirth: Framework analysis of a large survey

Anne Schirmann*, Frances M Boyle, Dell Horey, Dimitrios Siassakos, David Ellwood, Ingrid Rowlands, Vicki Flenady

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Experiencing stillbirth is devastating and leaves parents searching for causes. Autopsy is the gold standard for investigation, but deciding to consent to this procedure is very difficult for parents. Decision support in the form of clear, consistent, and parent-centered information is likely to be helpful. The aims of this study were to understand the influences on parents' decisions about autopsy after stillbirth and to identify attributes of effective decision support that align with parents' needs.

METHODS: Framework analysis using the Decision Drivers Model was used to analyze responses from 460 Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) mothers who took part in a multi-country online survey of parents' experiences of stillbirth. The main outcomes examined were factors influencing mothers' decisions to consent to autopsy after stillbirth.

RESULTS: Free-text responses from 454 ANZ mothers referenced autopsy, yielding 1221 data segments for analysis. The data confirmed the difficult decision autopsy consent entails. Mothers had a strong need for answers coupled with a strong need to protect their baby. Four "decision drivers" were confirmed: preparedness for the decision; parental responsibility; possible consequences; and role of health professionals. Each had the capacity to influence decisions for or against autopsy. Also prominent were the "aftermath" of the decision: receiving the results; and decisional regret or uncertainty.

CONCLUSIONS: The influences on decisions about autopsy are diverse and unpredictable. Effective decision support requires a consistent and structured approach that is built on understanding of parents' needs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-262
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Early online date2 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • autopsy
  • bereavement
  • decision-making
  • postmortem
  • stillbirth


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