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To Hold or Not to Hold: Medicolegal Death Investigation Practices During Unexpected Child Death Investigations and the Experiences of Next of Kin

Rudd, Rebecca A. PhD*; Marain, Lisa Capizzi MSW, LCSW; Crandall, Laura MA

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: June 2014 - Volume 35 - Issue 2 - p 132–139
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000089
Original Articles

The purpose of this study was to identify the current practices within the medicolegal death investigation system, as well as the experience of bereaved parents due to sudden unexpected child death with regard to viewing, memorial keepsakes, and communication during the death investigation. Convenience samples of 197 professionals and 156 bereaved parents participated. Respondents were asked to participate in an online survey. Results show that the majority of professional respondents (96.5%) allow the next of kin (NOK) to view his/her child before transport to the morgue while holding the infant/child was somewhat less commonplace (68.9%). The majority of professional respondents (70.4%) would also permit memorial keepsakes to be made. Additional factors are explored that both hinder and promote these common family requests. Furthermore, professional practices and NOK experiences in regard to communicating preliminary and final cause of death information to the NOK were highly variable. This article provides a snapshot at the current death investigative practices in the United States, as well as how these practices are received by NOK along with their recommendations for change. These results may be used to further inform future guidelines to improve comprehensive and efficient death investigations that support the emotional needs of the newly bereaved.

From the *Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA; and †Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Program, CJ Foundation, Hackensack, NJ.

Manuscript received August 17, 2013; accepted October 5, 2013.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Rebecca A. Rudd, PhD, Eastern Washington University, 135 Martin Hall, Cheney, WA 99004. E-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.