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How can we ensure that the coroner’s autopsy is not an invasion of human rights?
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  • Published on:
    Response to Jones: “Never mind religion, how about desecration?”
    • Ryk James, Forensic Pathologist Cardiff University
    • Other Contributors:
      • Stephen Leadbeatter, Forensic Pathologist

    We are intrigued by, and sympathetic toward, Dr Jones’ argument; we had approached our argument from the existing case law rather than from the fundamental position that dissection without good reason is morally unacceptable. We can understand that that position is supported by the need for appropriate consent in circumstances outwith a coroner’s jurisdiction. We would agree that invasive dissection that serves no defined purpose cannot be consonant with autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice.

    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Never mind religion, how about desecration?
    • Imogen Jones, Associate Professor in Law University of Leeds

    In their article considering the relationship between Articles 8 and 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and coronial autopsies, Leadbeatter and James argue that recourse to invasive autopsy ought only to be made after an ‘issues based’ investigation establishes that this is necessary. This stands in stark contrast to current practice.

    Whilst Leadbeatter and James write to report their own research findings and discuss the decision in R (Rotsztein) v HM Senior Coroner for Inner London North, I was prompted to consider whether they were too restrained in their conclusions. My primary concern is that whilst redress to the ECHR may be legally and rhetorically attractive, it means that outcomes are dependent on the still living taking action. This may, or may not, promote the deceased person’s preferred course of action.

    Prior to addressing this point in more detail, however, a brief mention to the necessity of invasive autopsies where a death occurs in suspicious circumstances. Leadbeatter and James discuss this; I found their discussion of ‘injury’ (Box 2, Issue 4) particularly interesting. They give the example of road or train deaths, where their approach was to first review evidence from the scene, take toxicology samples and remove trace evidence. Another example might be where a person is shot in the head at close range, the events being caught on CCTV. These examples highlight that even in extreme circumstances evisceration of the body m...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.