When pathologists talk about a lack of bodies, they don’t always mean staff. They’re referring to, and lamenting, the declining autopsy rate. If you died in 1950—during the golden age of autopsy—the chances were 50-50 that your body would be opened to determine the cause of death. The rate dropped to 41% in 1964, 35% in 1972, and 22% in 1975. Today, it is closer toone in 10 and still falling. Researchers are now voicing alarm about the implications this decline poses for the accuracy of estimating disease rates, the allocation of research funds, and the efficacy of scientific investigation in fields like the neurosciences, in which human tissue is needed.

The average university hospital has an autopsy rate of 31%, while community hospitals are down to around 5%, according to Rolla Hill, who is a research pathologist at the Health Sciences Center at the State University of New York,...

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