Post mortem examination

The most common type of post mortem examination is ordered by the coroner to find out why someone has died. This is most often done when the death is unexplained or is the result of an accident, suicide or the circumstances appear to be suspicious in any way. The coroner may also order a post mortem if the death has occurred very soon after admission to hospital or after a medical or surgical procedure.

The next of kin will be informed, usually by the coroner's officer, that there will be a post mortem examination and when and where it will take place. It is a legal requirement and consent of next of kin is not required. It is possible for the family to have a medical representative at the post mortem but most families do not feel that this is necessary. Tell the coroner's officer as soon as possible if you think you need to arrange this and the reason for your concern.

You should also tell the coroner or coroner's officer if you have strong objections to a post mortem examination on grounds of religion or culture. You can also speak to your own religious or cultural authorities as they will be familiar with the law and will be able to guide you. The law does have priority over religious belief but if a post mortem examination is essential it may be possible for it to be done very quickly to allow a funeral to go ahead as soon as possible. In a few parts of the country it may be possible for the coroner to order examination of the body by scanning which may avoid the need for a traditional post mortem examination. However this is not yet widely available and even where it is available it will have to be paid for by the bereaved family. If the scan does not reveal a clear cause of death or that there is something unnatural, a traditional post mortem examination will then be ordered.

A coroner's post mortem is done only to establish why someone has died and not for research or any other purpose. Even if it is carried out in a hospital, it is being done on behalf of the coroner and the report of the findings are sent to the coroner. Provided the cause of death is natural and there are no other reasons requiring an inquest, the coroner will use the information given by the pathologist to complete his form allowing the death to be registered.

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