By P.J.L Laurens (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By P.J.L Laurens (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Coroners must adhere to the wishes of the deceased’s family if a non-invasive procedure could determine the cause of death, rather than an autopsy.

The British High Court has established a set of rules for coroners regarding the deceased’s religious beliefs and autopsies.  The issue reached the judicial system after a case involving a Jewish woman who passed away under questionable circumstances, reports The Independent. 

Last September, 86 year old Serlotta Rotsztein, an Orthodox Jew, died in a London hospital.  The coroner, Mary Hassell, was unable to determine if Rotsztein, who had a history of heart disease, died of heart failure of septic shock.  Hassell planned to do an autopsy even against the protests of Rotsztein’s five children, who claimed that the removal of organs constitutes desecration in the Jewish faith.  An emergency injunction stopped the autopsy. 

The judge said that Hassell’s decision to order a post-mortem in this case was “flawed” and decided to set rules to help coroners make these difficult decisions, reports the Jewish Chronicle Online. 

The ruling states that coroners should adhere to the religious wishes of the deceased’s family if there is a “reasonable possibility” that a non-invasive procedure could determine the cause of death, if said procedure wouldn’t impede any future procedures that may be necessary, or if there is “no good reason” to order an autopsy in the first place.

In this instance, a CT scan provided a 90% chance that heart failure was the cause, and a blood test confirmed that it was not septic shock

The ruling is a judicial victory for Jews and Muslims.  The Jewish faith prohibits desecration of the body and a burial as soon as possible in adherence to Deuteronomy 21:22,23 (Jewish Virtual Library).   Islam practices similar traditions, facing the body toward Mecca, covering it in a white cloth, and turning the body over to the family for cleansing and preparation for burial as soon as possible (Ethnicity online).

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