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Keywords:

  • pacemaker;
  • defibrillators;
  • postmortem analysis;
  • morticians;
  • advance directives

Introduction: Recent recalls of pacemakers and defibrillators cast a spotlight on product reliability. Universal postmortem device analysis could yield valuable information, but little data exist on the rate and feasibility of device examinations following death. This study investigated how morticians manage pacemakers and defibrillators and surveyed morticians and device patients regarding routine postmortem device interrogation and explantation.

Methods and Results: Seventy-one morticians were surveyed on device interrogation and explantation practices. One hundred fifty patients presenting for routine device interrogation were interviewed regarding preferences for what should be done with devices postmortem and willingness to execute “device advance directives” authorizing analysis and retrieval. The average number of devices annually explanted per mortician was 7 ± 10 (range = 1 to 50). The most common methods of disposal were placement in medical waste (44%) and donation for human reimplantation in developing nations (18%). Only 4% of morticians reported ever returning devices to manufacturers, but 87% agreed that routine explantation and return of devices to manufacturers would be feasible. Eighty-seven percent of device patients had no understanding of how their device would be handled after death. However, a majority (82%) indicated a willingness to have their device interrogated after death, and most (79%) were willing to have it returned to manufacturers. Willingness was not associated with age, sex, time since device implantation, or device type.

Conclusions: Implantable pacemakers and defibrillators are rarely analyzed after patients die. Systematic postmortem device retrieval appears feasible and acceptable to morticians and patients. Further efforts are needed to implement universal postmortem device evaluation.