Information for Families

Viewings

The grieving process is a very personal journey that is different for each person. For some people it is an important part of the process to be able to see their loved one. We have a viewing room where the next of kin can see and spend some time with their loved one.

These viewings are by appointment as arranged with PCH staff. Families are provided with an allocated PCH contact from nursing, pastoral care or social work, who will liaise with mortuary staff. Your PCH contact will remain with you during the viewing.

It is preferred that viewings take place within business hours of Monday to Friday 8am - 4pm, however, staff understand that this may not always be practical especially if there are specific religious or cultural requirements. Out of hours viewings will need to be coordinated by your PCH contact.

 

Having a post-mortem after the loss of your child

Please be aware that the following information may be distressing to some readers.

We offer our heartfelt condolences if you, or someone close to you, has suffered the loss of a child. We understand that the loss of your child is a painful time, so we’re committed to supporting and caring for you and your family as you navigate this difficult experience.

The loss of your child may raise important questions that can affect your grieving process. The decision to have an internal examination of your child’s body is a personal one. Research, and our experience in assisting hundreds of families, shows that some parents have later regretted not having the information that a post-mortem examination may provide. Rarely do they regret having this information.

A post-mortem examination is a detailed internal examination of your child and is usually performed by a pathologist within 48 hours after death. Some parents understandably find this request overwhelming at such a difficult time. It can be daunting to make the decision to have an autopsy performed as there is some fear about the process, or concern that your child will be returned to you disfigured.

Please be assured that the examination will not compromise your ongoing contact with your child, nor any pastoral, spiritual or religious needs related to your family. The post-mortem examination will be performed carefully in such a way that you will still be able to spend time with your child following the completion of the examination.

More detailed information about the post-mortem process is available in the drop-down menu below. Please take your time in reading this information and understanding the options available to you.

Download a printable version of information for parents and next-of-kin.

Frequently Asked Questions

This is an examination performed after death to provide as much information as possible to explain what happened to your baby and why. An examination can only be performed with your consent. The examination is performed by a medical specialist called a Paediatric and Perinatal Pathologist who is experienced and trained specifically in this area.

It’s entirely up to you the type of examination you give permission for the pathologist to perform. The examination will be tailored precisely to your wishes. These should be written on the signed consent form so that the pathologist knows exactly what is required, but also what you do not permit.

Full post mortem examination

This will allow the pathologist to give a very detailed report of any external or internal abnormalities, organ growth and structural defects. To perform the autopsy, incisions will be made in order to examine the organs. These are made along your baby’s chest and tummy and another is made at the back of his/her skull. These will be delicately repaired and will not be visible to you when your baby is returned to you carefully redressed and wrapped. The examination will include an x-ray and placental examination.

Limited post mortem examination

This is where restrictions are placed on the examination, such as:

  • Examination of the abdominal and chest organs but no head incisions
  • Examination of chest organs only
  • Examination of abdominal organs only
  • Examination of head only.

To perform a limited autopsy, an incision is made as determined by the Pathologist. This will be carefully repaired and will not be visible to you when your baby is returned to you carefully redressed and wrapped. The examination will include an x-ray and placental examination.

External post mortem examination

This is where only the outside of your baby’s body is examined. No incisions are made and no internal organs are studied. The examination will include an x-ray if required and placental examination.

A more complete examination allows the pathologist to provide a more informative final report. If we’re able to provide more information to the doctor or counsellor involved in your care, they will be better able to explain what happened to your baby and whether this could affect future pregnancies or other family members. Your doctor or midwife will be able to give you more information about the post-mortem procedure and answer any questions you have.

Genetic, microbiology, virology or other laboratory tests may help detect infection or genetic problems. Small specimens will be sent for tests if the pathologist thinks it necessary at the time of the post mortem examination. Genetic testing can only be done with additional specific consent.

The results of these additional tests are included in the final report.

Following the post mortem examination, the pathologist writes a report for the doctor who cared for you and your baby, detailing their findings.

A provisional report will generally be available within 2-3 working days and a final report will be issued within 6-8 weeks, when all test results are known.

The information gained from this report will allow your healthcare professional to counsel you if your baby had a genetic condition or discuss why your baby died and what the risks are for future pregnancies. We can also prepare a report for you in non-technical language for discussion with your healthcare professional. This report, called the Plain Language Report, can be requested when signing the post mortem examination consent form.

The post mortem coordinator or your doctor will be able to discuss all your questions about the post mortem examination with you.

No, you don’t. It’s important to reach decisions you are comfortable with and we understand that this may take some time. No examination of your baby will be performed without your consent.

The post mortem examination takes place at PathWest’s Paediatric & Perinatal Pathology department at Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH).

Your baby is kept in Perinatal Pathology at King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH). If your baby requires an examination, he/she will be transferred to the PathWest Paediatric & Perinatal Pathology department at Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH). Your baby will always be accompanied by Perinatal Pathology staff. Before leaving KEMH, an x-ray of your baby is done to assess bone development. On arrival at PCH, the pathologist will perform an examination in accorfance with the consent you have signed. Measurements and photographs are also taken of your baby to create a permanent record. The placenta is also examined at this time, if available. Your baby will be returned to the Perinatal Pathology department at KEMH the same day.

During a post mortem examination, a training doctor, midwife, nurse, laboratory technician or specialist may be present as part of their training or to review the findings. Tissue won’t be taken or used for research purposes unless your permission is given on the consent form. Any research that takes place will have the approval of the hospital’s ethics committee.

Please be aware that PathWest’s Paediatric & Perinatal Pathology department is a teaching government agency where any photographs, diagnostic slides or knowledge gained during a post mortem examination may be used anonymously for teaching of clinicians or authorised students.

A small biopsy (roughly the size of a pea) is routinely taken from every major organ for microscopy to detect disease, similar to how biopsies are taken during life to determine if disease is present. This tissue is processed into a paraffin block from which a microscope slide is produced. This material is kept indefinitely. Some tissue may be sent to other departments such as microbiology or virology, depending on what the pathologist thinks the underlying disease process is. In most cases, a small pea-sized piece of tissue is frozen in a special way if any further testing (such as genetics) is required in the future. Any genetic testing can only proceed with your permission and a separate consent form will need to be signed by your treating doctor. All remaining tissue is returned to the body at the conclusion of the post-mortem.

Unless permission is specifically granted, all tissues are returned to the body at the conclusion of the post-mortem. A pea-sized sample is taken from every major organ. From this, a paraffin block and microscope slide is produced for microscopic examination to detect disease with some samples being frozen or sent for testing within other departments (e.g. genetics, microbiology, virology). The paraffin blocks and microscopic slides are kept indefinitely as part of the patient record and can be referred to at a later stage (e.g if new genetic tests become available). The frozen samples are kept for up to 20 years and may be sent to Diagnostic Genomics for further testing. Genetic testing requires specific permission and will discussed with you by your treating doctor.

Private cremations and burials involve a registered funeral director and are required by law for babies equal to or over twenty-eight weeks gestation and those babies who, at any gestation, had a heartbeat or breathed at birth. Private funerals are another option for babies who could otherwise be cremated by the Perinatal Pathology Department.

Funerals with a registered funeral director incur a cost. Families should contact the funeral director of their choice directly to make the appropriate arrangements.

It is best that Funerals are arranged as soon as possible. Perinatal Pathology cannot facilitate appropriate care for your baby long term.

KEMH Pastoral Care Services or Social Work departments can assist parents when considering various funeral options and choices. When arrangements are made, the funeral director will contact us to arrange the transfer of the baby into their care.

Please see here for a list of all Funeral Directors for Western Australia.

Last Updated: 21/09/2022