A Coroner does not need the consent of the next-of-kin to have a post mortem examination carried out. This is a special medical examination of the body. These findings identify the medical cause of death and often determine whether any further action on the part of the Coroner is required. Though the Coroner will carry out their work as sensitively as possible, they must perform their duties which may mean overriding the wishes of the next-of-kin.
This examination is carried out by a pathologist, usually in the nearest local or regional hospital. A pathologist is a specialist doctor trained to identify disease in organs and tissues. This examination may involve the removal and examination of tissue and on occasion, it may be necessary to retain an organ or organs for more detailed examination. In the majority of post mortems, no organs are retained. When it is necessary to retain an organ or tissue, the next-of-kin will be informed of this and they will be asked to indicate what they would like to happen to the organ or tissue if and when it is released at a later date. Organs and tissue can only be released on the authority of the Coroner.
Retention of an organ for any other purpose by a hospital or pathologist (e.g. teaching, research or therapeutic purposes) requires specific consent from the spouse or next-of-kin.
In carrying out this examination, there is no disfigurement (or further didfigurement) of the body, which may be viewed afterwards, in the same manner as if no post mortem had been carried out.
If someone is an organ donor, but their death is (or will be) reportable to a Coroner, permission of the Coroner and next-of-kin is required before organs can be donated. In situations where the Coroner grants permission for donation, the following post mortem examination will be limited.
It is for the Coroner to decide the matter following consultation with the Gardaí and advice from medical professionals. In general, the Coroner will facilitate requests for organ donation.
Post mortem results
It may be several weeks before the post mortem report is available. If toxicology tests (testing for, eg, alcohol, medications) are required, it could be longer. A death cannot be registered until a post mortem report is received. Queries relating to post mortem results should be made to the relevant Coroner’s office rather than the hospital concerned. Once the Coroner is satisfied that the report is in order, the Coroner will make these findings available as soon as possible on request for a fee set down by law.
In cases where an inquest is to be held, these results will only be released at the discretion of the Coroner. After an inquest is held, the post mortem results become part of the public record.
The post mortem report gives details of the examination of the body. It may also give details of any laboratory tests which have been carried out.
Normally the deceased’s doctor is informed in writing of the medical cause of death contained in the post-mortem report and will be sent a copy of the report. The next-of-kin will also be advised when the report has been received to enable them to make contact with the doctor. Because the report contains medical terminology it is useful to have the help of a doctor when reading it to enable it to be fully understood. The Coroner can also copy the report to the next-of-kin directly if this is requested.
The Coroner may also make the post mortem report available to a person who has a ‘proper interest’. These may include:-
- Other relatives of the deceased;
- The executors of the deceased’s will or person appointed as the deceased’s personal representative;
- Solicitors acting for the next-of-kin;
- Insurers with a relevant interest;
- Anyone who may, in some way, be involved in the death;
- Others appearing to the Coroner to have a proper interest, and,
(where death resulted from an accident at work)-
- Representatives of trade unions;
- Employer of the deceased;
- Inspector of the Health & Safety Authority, The Garda Ombudsman, Road Safety Authority, Air Accident Investigation Unit, Railway Safety Commission etc.
Properly interested persons at inquest are entitled to be legally represented. Legal representation is not mandatory, but such persons may sometimes wish to instruct a solicitor.