Evaluating current knowledge of legislation and practice of obstetricians and gynaecologists in the management of fetal remains in South Africa

Lorraine du Toit-Prinsloo, Camilla Pickles, Hennie Lombaard


Background. In the clinical setting, the main legislative provisions governing the management and ‘disposal’ of fetal remains in South Africa are the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 92 of 1996 and the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992.

Objectives. To determine obstetricians’ and gynaecologists’ current knowledge of this legislation. Current practice with regard to certification of death and methods of disposal of fetal material was also reviewed.

Methods. A questionnaire-based study was conducted. The data collected included demographic details, qualifications, years of experience, working environment (public/private practice), responses to general questions reviewing knowledge of current legislation, and practical experience.

Results. Seventy-six questionnaires were returned, with practitioners from the private and public sectors nearly equally represented. It was found that there is a concerning gap in obstetricians’ and gynaecologists’ knowledge of the law, and that some practitioners are acting outside the scope of the law. The study further revealed that patients’ needs are not properly accommodated under the current legislative provisions, because the law prevents certain remains from being respectfully managed. 

Conclusions. The study findings suggest that improved training of practitioners, together with possible law reform, are required to better serve the needs of patients.


Authors' affiliations

Lorraine du Toit-Prinsloo, Department of Forensic Medicine, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Camilla Pickles, South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Hennie Lombaard, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Registration of live birth; Stillbirth; Viability; Termination of pregnancy; Fetal remains; Burial options for fetuses

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2016;106(4):403-406. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i4.10214

Article History

Date submitted: 2015-10-16
Date published: 2016-03-08

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