The role of coronial autopsies in a context of decreasing hospital autopsies: An investigation of the issues

Carpenter, Belinda, Tait, Gordon, Jonsson, Linda, Peschl, Heiko, Naylor, Charles, & Bermudez-Ortega, Aurora (2010) The role of coronial autopsies in a context of decreasing hospital autopsies: An investigation of the issues. Journal of Law and Medicine, 18(2), pp. 402-412.


This article scrutinises the argument that decreasing hospital autopsy rates are outside the control of medical personnel, based as they are on families’ unwillingness to consent to autopsy procedures, and that, as a consequence, the coronial autopsy is the appropriate alternative to the important medical and educational role of the autopsy. It makes three points which are well supported by the research. First, that while hospital autopsy rates are decreasing, they have been doing so for more than 60 years, and issues beyond the simple notion of consent, like funding formulae in hospitals, increased technology and fear of litigation by doctors are all playing their part in this decline. Secondly, the issue of consent has as much to do with families not being approached as with families declining to give consent. This is well supported by recent changes in hospital policy and procedures which include senior medical personnel and detailed consent forms, both of which have been linked to rising consent rates in recent years. Finally, the perception that coronial autopsies are beyond familial consent has been challenged recently by legislative changes in both Australia and the United States of America which allow objections based on religion and culture to be heard by coroners. For these reasons, it is argued that medical personnel need to focus on increasing hospital autopsy rates, while also addressing the complex ethical issues associated with conducting medical research within the context of the coronial autopsy.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 43174
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Hospital, Coronial, Autopsy
ISSN: 1320-159X
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > CRIMINOLOGY (160200) > Criminology not elsewhere classified (160299)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Health Law Research
Current > Schools > School of Justice
Deposited On: 13 Jul 2011 13:10
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2015 01:33

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