Non-Invasive Post-Mortem

A family may have strong reasons to object to invasive post-mortem.

The objections may be based on religious grounds against the violation of the body.

In 2015 a judge noted:

“…. it is a settled tenet of the Jewish faith that desecration of a corpse is to be avoided. A similar principle applies in Islam.”

It is necessary to consider Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This provides:

“(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

(2) Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The judge gave guidance to assist a coroner to fulfil the Article 9(2) duty, and the duty not to act contrary to the Convention under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1988.

The guidance notes:

  1. There must be an established religious tenet that invasive autopsy is to be avoided before any question of avoidance on Article 9 grounds arises.
  2. There must be a realistic possibility – not a more than 50/50 chance – that non-invasive procedures, which can include a CT scan and a coronary angiography but also the growth of blood and urine cultures, will establish the cause of death.
  3. The whole post-mortem examination must be capable of being undertaken without undue delay.
  4. Critically, the performance of non-invasive or minimally invasive procedures must not impair the effectiveness of an invasive autopsy if one is ultimately required. That is of course a matter of judgment for the coroner.
  5. There must be no good reason (founded on the coroner’s duty to ascertain how, when and where the deceased came by his or her death) to require an immediate invasive autopsy in any event. A forensic autopsy in a homicide case will either always, or almost always, be required and the need for it will either always, or almost always, override any religious objection.
  6. Non-invasive procedures must be capable of being performed without imposing an additional cost burden on the coroner.

In this case the family agreed to discharge the cost. In other cases facilities at no additional cost may be available to coroners.


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