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After Violent Death, Bereaved Should Decide Whether to View Body

Loved ones should be given the choice, researchers say

FRIDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- Relatives of people killed traumatically should be able to decide for themselves whether they wish to see the bodies of their loved ones, a new British study suggests.

The study authors, Alison Chapple and Sue Ziebland of the University of Oxford, talked to 80 relatives of people who died in violent ways, including suicide, murder, car accident and drug overdose. The researchers interviewed the participants for up to six hours.

"Those who had made a choice [either to see or not to see] usually said that it had been the right decision for them, even if they had mixed reactions or felt some initial distress," Chapple and Ziebland wrote.

People who deal with bereaved relatives shouldn't make assumptions about what they would like to do in these situations, the authors noted. "Within a family there will be different attitudes; some bereaved relatives may want to view but others will not, and some will find viewing helpful but others may find it distressing," they explained.

In a commentary, Glennys Howarth of the University of Sydney wrote that the study shows that "the language that bereaved people use when referring to the deceased may help professionals when guiding them about viewing. Speaking of the deceased by name or using a personal pronoun points to a continuing sense of relationship. In these circumstances, viewing the body, if it is handled slowly and sensitively, may facilitate grief."

The findings were published online May 1 in BMJ.

More information

To see and hear the interviews with bereaved relatives, go to

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, May 1, 2010

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