This study investigated the circumstances and problems that departments of forensic medicine encounter with bereaved families regarding samples obtained from medico-legal autopsies. A questionnaire was posted to all 76 departments of forensic medicine performing medico-legal autopsies in Japan, and responses were received from 48 (63.2%). Of the respondents, 12.8% had approached and communicated with bereaved families about collecting samples from the deceased person during an autopsy and the storage of the samples. In addition, 23.4% of these had informed families that samples might be used in research. Eighteen departments had received enquiries and requests from families about the samples, with most requests concerning their return. The response to such requests varied according to the department. Few departments interacted with the bereaved families regarding the procedure for obtaining autopsy samples, and their methods for handling family concerns differed depending on the person within the department authorised to contact the family. Moreover, the procedures for engaging in such communication have long been unclear, and no legal or ethical consensus or agreement with the general public has been established. It is important for researchers to further discuss the correct way for forensic medicine departments to communicate with bereaved families.
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