Three recent developments on the world scene have led to an increasing importance of thorough perinatal autopsies. The first is occurring in the developing countries where success in the prevention and treatment of infectious and parasitic diseases has allowed the emergence of perinatal morbidity and mortality as major public health problems. The answer to one fundamental question, 'What are the leading causes of perinatal death in developing countries?', is not known. The prevention and treatment of perinatal diseases wait upon that answer. The careful performance of perinatal autopsies followed by dissemination of the findings to parents, clinicians and public health organizations is the first step in the reduction of perinatal mortality and morbidity.