Coro­ners Bill favours scan over the knife

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY JONATHAN KALMUS

A DRA­MATIC fall in the num­ber of in­va­sive post-mortems car­ried out on Jewish peo­ple against their fam­i­lies’ wishes could be on the hori­zon, ac­cord­ing to new leg­is­la­tion pro­posed in par­lia­ment this week.

In Lon­don, 80 per cent of around 150 post-mortems car­ried out an­nu­ally on Jews still use in­va­sive sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures and re­move body parts, in con­tra­ven­tion of ha­lachah (Jewish law). Cur­rently, if the coroner or­ders a post-mortem, civil law will over­ride re­li­gious law.

But the Coro­ners and Jus­tice Bill, which had its sec­ond read­ing in the Com­mons on Mon­day, changes the def­i­ni­tion of post-mortems to in­clude MRI scan­ning, which can de­ter­mine the cause of death without a blade touch­ing the body.

The Un­der-Sec­re­tary of State for Jus­tice, Brid­get Pren­tice, said that the Bill would en­sure that coro­ners took the re­li­gious re­quire­ments of be­reaved fam­i­lies into ac­count: “There are prob­a­bly far too many post-mortems car­ried out. I am keen that, where ap­pro­pri­ate and pos­si­ble, coro­ners can of­fer non-in­va­sive post-mortems. If a coroner re­quests an MRI scan, then the Bill will al­low them the op­por­tu­nity to do that.”

This will be the first recog­ni­tion given in English law to post-mortem scan­ning, and means coro­ners will have to recog­nise its va­lid­ity .

This re­moves a ma­jor bar­rier to scan­ning, ac­cord­ing to Si­mon Nel­son, the coroner for Manch­ester North.

He said: “Some coro­ners will sim­ply not ac­cept that scan­ning is within the def­i­ni­tion of a post-mortem, so it’s ex­tremely use­ful to have the def­i­ni­tion en­shrined in this leg­is­la­tion.”

The op­tion of scan­ning is al­ready of­fered by all coro­ners across Greater Manch­ester, af­ter more than a decade of work by Jewish cam­paign­ers. The re­sult is a 98 per cent re­duc­tion in in­va­sive post-mortems car­ried out on Jewish peo­ple, fall­ing from 60 to 70 cases an­nu­ally to less than one a year.

One lead­ing cam­paigner, Shlomo Adler, says he has been wait­ing for scans to be recog­nised in English law for over 11 years.

“Scans should be used wher­ever pos­si­ble, oth­er­wise a body is torn to shreds — it’s ter­ri­ble,” he said.

But so­lic­i­tor Michael Levy, who wants scan­ning to be recog­nised as a re­li­gious right un­der the Hu­man Rights Act, says the new Bill is very wel­come but may not go far enough.

“I would like the Bill to say that coro­ners are ob­li­gated to of­fer a non­in­va­sive post-mortem and to make it an ex­plicit right to have one.

“At the mo­ment this right is only im­plicit — it doesn’t say coro­ners need suf­fi­cient grounds be­fore re­fus­ing a scan.”

Bolton Coroner Jen­nifer Leeming, a lead­ing au­thor­ity on im­ple­ment­ing scan­ning, says the Bill is a “huge stride for­ward” and may be enough to con­vince all coro­ners to adopt scan­ning.

Full body scan: prefer­able un­der ha­lachah

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