Tissue retention

The Pathologist may need to take samples from your relative's body for further testing. Unfortunately, this must be done even if you would prefer otherwise - the Pathologist has a duty in law to take them if they believe that it will help them determine the cause of death.   

The process is very much like having a biopsy in life - the samples are tiny slices about the size and thickness of a little fingernail. They are not whole organs or even substantial amounts of tissue. The Pathologist will look at them under the microscope to obtain further information about the cause of death.

Small samples (a few millilitres) of blood and/or urine may also be taken if the Pathologist needs to check levels of drugs, medicines or certain natural body chemicals.

The testing process takes between one and six weeks, depending on what type of analysis needs to be done.  This means that it is not usually possible to reunite the samples with the body before the funeral. Samples of fluids are normally destroyed after testing.

The Human Tissue Act 2004 sets down strict regulations for how we must treat the samples of human tissue.  When we are giving you the post mortem results, we will always inform you if samples have been taken.  You then have a choice of four options for how they are to be handled:

  • A.  Samples are returned to the body of the deceased before burial or cremation, even if this delays the funeral.
  • B.  Samples are disposed of in a lawful way by the hospital.
  • C.  Samples are returned to the Funeral director
  • D.  Samples are donated for use by the pathologist for medical, research, teaching or other purposes, for as long as the pathologist deems appropriate, after which it will be disposed of in a lawful way.

You do not need to decide while we are on the phone with you. Feel free to think it over and call us back.  However, we will need a decision from you before we are able to release your relative's body for the funeral.

Very rarely the pathologist will need to take a whole organ for further analysis. If this happens, a Coroner’s Officer will contact you to explain the situation. You will then have the same four options for the disposal of the organ