Doctors: Early deaths need explaining

Relatives and scientists will both benefit if more autopsies are carried out into the unexpected deaths of people under 50, doctors argue

Doctors are lobbying the government for mandatory autopsies of all individuals under the age of 50 who die unexpectedly, both for the sake of science and out of consideration for their families.

The move is based on examples such as Brian Olesen from Hillerød whose 43-year-old brother died suddenly before Christmas and whose cause of death remains a mystery because there was no autopsy.

“There wasn’t anything criminal about it, but we in the family want to know what he died of so we can prevent future deaths,” Olesen said.

Olesen’s argument is supported by the Danish medical association, Lægeforeningen, and several other medical organisations which want more autopsies done on people who die young. The appeal has been sent to the parliament’s health committee.

“When a 22-year-old keels over dead in a forest and it’s clear the death is not suspicious, they are not subject to an autopsy, and as a result we lose valuable knowledge,” said Henning Bundgaard, chief surgeon at Rigshospitalet’s department for heritable heart disease.

It is not currently known what proportion of young deaths lead to autopsies but the regional councils that operate hospitals want this investigated.

“Relatives can benefit from knowing if the death is a result of an undiscovered heritable illness, and researchers can also benefit from it,” said Ulla Astman (Socialdemokraterne), head of the health committee for the national association of regional governments.

Sophie Hæstorp Andersen, health spokesperson for Socialdemokraterne, said the initiative is gainining momentum.

“We will now discuss it in the government. Relatives who have experienced sudden and unexplained deaths want explanations.”