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Tissue retention

The Pathologist may need to take samples from your loved one'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.

The Human Tissue Act 2006 sets down strict regulations for how the samples must be treated.  When you receive the post mortem results, you should always be informed if samples have been taken.  Usually you then have a choice of three options for how they are to be handled:

A.  Samples are retained at the hospital by the Pathologist for medical research and teaching.  When they are no longer needed, they will be disposed of in a lawful and sensitive matter.

B.  Samples are returned to the family via their funeral director

C.  Samples are disposed of at the hospital in a lawful and sensitive manner.  (This is usually cremation.)

You should not need to decide straight away, however, a decision will normally be required before your loved one's body may be released for the funeral.

Very rarely, the pathologist will need to take a whole organ for further analysis.  If this happens, it is customary for a specially-trained Police Officer to meet with you face to face and explain the situation.  You would still then have the same three options for the disposal of the organ.

(from Manchester City Council, used under the Open Government Licence)