End of or Start of Life?
Visual Technology and the Transformation of Traditional Post-Mortem


The Remembering Baby exhibition is based on a research study about experiences of early-life loss and the impact of medical imaging on paediatric post-mortem. The research has considered post-mortem in the broader context of life, loss and memorialisation and using this holistic approach has examined professional and parental encounters with death at the very beginning of life.


The project is funded by the ESRC and it is being carried out by a research team (led by Dr Kate Reed) at the University of Sheffield. The study started in September 2015 and it will end in February 2018. The research has the following key aims:

  1. To explore parental and family accounts of early-life loss and to understand in particular, how they feel about and experience the post-mortem process.

  2. To explore professional work related to post-mortem and to examine the impact of new technologies (such as MRI) on post-mortem practices.

  3. To consider how the introduction of new technologies in the field of pathology might be effecting working relationships between professionals from a variety of different fields, including radiology, pathology and chaplaincy services.

Doing the research has involved observational work in hospitals and associated sites (e.g. memorial services) and conducting over 45 in-depth interviews with parents, family members and professionals (e.g. pathologists, mortuary technicians and midwives).  The research team are currently analysing the information they have collected via these methods and they will be publishing their findings from 2018 onwards. 

This study comes at a critical time. With increasing investment in the UK of private and NHS funds in visual technologies, it offers a much needed contribution to broader debates on the ability of technology to redefine the boundaries between life and death.  

The project also addresses practical and emerging questions regarding how visual technologies inform, or advance, the practice of health care professionals, and asks what they can contribute to the parents' experiences of loss, life and memory.

Find out more about the research.
Read a blog about the research.

About the research funder

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It has provided funding for the ‘End of’ or ‘Start of’ Life research project and the Remembering Baby exhibition. The ESRC supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.