Authors blame ‘unintentional oversight’ for including image of deceased patient in paper – Retraction Watch

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The authors of a case report involving a patient who died of a rare bone marrow disorder removed an image from the article after the person’s mother objected to the use of the photograph.

The article, “Dyskeratosis congenita”, appeared in Autopsy case reports in 2020 and was authored by a group from Upstate Medical University, part of the State University of New York system at Syracuse.

We saw the review in November and were curious if we could find out more. So we filed a public records request for papers related to the article – and received a response last week revealing correspondence between Robert Stoppacher, the report’s co-author, and the journal’s editor.

In a letter to the newspaper on September 12, 2021, Stoppacher said that:

As you know from our previous email correspondence, the mother of the individual in the case report was upset with the full body image (Figure 2A) in the article and requested that it be removed . Although steps have been taken to anonymize the person in the image, the author [sic] did not obtain permission to include this particular image in the article. This involuntary omission comes from the authors and not from the journal.

It is unclear what “past email correspondence” refers to; the university said that “email records are generally only retained for 180 calendar days”.

Stoppacher added in the letter that all four case study authors agreed with the decision to remove the image, as did their institution’s ethics committee.

That – minus the part about the mother – is pretty much what the review says:

The reason for the removal of this image is that although the authors obtained permission from the deceased’s next of kin to perform the autopsy and use the data for publication, this specific image should not have been included.

This matter was brought to the attention of the journal’s editor by the corresponding author of the article. After correspondence with the authors and their institution, the editor obtained an official letter from the Department of Pathology at SUNY Upstate Medical University requesting the retraction. The letter states that the four authors of the article agree with this decision and that this matter has also been brought to the attention of the ethics committee of SUNY Upstate Medical University which supports the retraction of the image.

The editorial board and the authors would like to express their most sincere apologies to the family members for this unintentional oversight on the part of the authors.

The letter is signed by Fernando Peixoto Ferraz de Campos, editor of the journal.

The SUNY documents also reveal that the retraction of the image took about two months from the time Stoppacher requested the move – not instantaneous but also not the geologic time seen in some newspapers.

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