National differences in the legislation on cause and manner of death investigation are reflected in a high autopsy rate in suicides in Finland and a low corresponding rate in Denmark. The consequences for mortality statistics of these different investigation practices on deaths classified as suicides in Denmark and Finland, respectively, are not known in detail. The aim of this article was to analyse autopsy rates in deaths classified as suicides, and to identify any differences in investigation practices in deaths with a comparable cause of death, but classified as unnatural deaths other than suicide. Data from the mortality registries were summarised for the years 2000, 2005 and 2010. Autopsy rates (total, forensic and medical) were analysed with regard to deaths classified as suicide, and they were compared for three age groups (1-50 years, 51-70 years and ≥71 years) and for causes of death. Deaths classified as suicide were compared with other unnatural classifications, and comparable causes of death were coded into six subgroups: poisonings, suffocations/strangulations, firearm discharges, drowning/submersions, explosions/flames and other/unspecified causes. The total autopsy rate for suicides was 99.8% in Finland and 13.2% in Denmark. Almost all of these autopsies were conducted as forensic autopsies. In the age group ≥71 years, Danish suicides outnumbered Finnish suicides (410 versus 283). The total autopsy rate was lower in the more senior age group in Denmark (19.5%, 9.9%, 5.6%), whereas it was consistently high in Finland (99.8%, 99.9%, 99.6%). Among Danish deaths due to poisonings, the autopsy rate was 89.5% when these were classified as accidents, but only 20.7% for cases classified as suicides. The number of deaths in the two Danish subgroups was comparable (550 versus 553). In Denmark, the decision regarding the need, if any, for a forensic autopsy is made during the external forensic examination of the body. Our study showed that the limited use of forensic autopsy to confirm the cause of death in deaths classified as suicides raises doubts about the accuracy of the Danish suicide mortality statistics. Our finding is emphasised by those cases in which the cause of death was registered as intentional self-poisoning. The high number of suicides among the elderly in Denmark is striking and begs further investigation and research. Overall, our data from Finland and Denmark reveal striking differences between the two countries and warrant further comparative studies on the subject in other countries.
Forensic Science International, 2014, Vol 244, p. 158-165
Suicide Forensic autopsy Cause of death Manner of death Mortality statistics Autopsy rate MEDICOLEGAL AUTOPSY FORENSIC AUTOPSY DETERMINING MODE DEATH MORTALITY TRENDS BODY