Before ordering an internal examination, a coroner should always consider whether, having regard to any cultural traditions and/or spiritual beliefs of the family of the deceased, an internal examination is likely to cause distress and must also consider any concerns raised by a family member whose views have been sought.

When the deceased is an Aborigine or a Torres Strait Islander, contact may be made with the local Indigenous legal service or with police liaison services to arrange for a community member to accompany police to advise you of the death. Such support will help the police understand your specific cultural requirements around the body of your loved one, your grieving practices and your concerns about the role and place of autopsy. Coronial counsellors may also be accessed to aid in communicating your concerns to the Coroner about autopsy and other related issues. If your concerns are over-ridden and an internal examination is ordered, the order and reasons for the decision must be provided to the person who raised the concerns.

Under Section 19 of The Coroners Act 2003 (Qld), the Coroner is required to specify the level of invasiveness of the autopsy order, which may consist of “(i) an external examination of the body; or (ii) an external and partial internal examination of the body; or (iii) an external and full internal examination of the body”. In principle, it is argued that “the least intrusive examination that will resolve the issues in doubt should be ordered” . It is also stipulated under Section 19, that Coroners can only make such an order after considering, “that in some cases a deceased person’s family may be distressed by the making of this type of order, for example, because of cultural traditions or spiritual beliefs”. Further, a coroner must consider any concerns raised by a family member, or other person with “sufficient interest,” and if he or she decides to order an internal autopsy despite such concerns being expressed, a copy of the order must be given by the Coroner's Office to the person who raised the concern . The Act does not provide any mechanism for a concerned family member to challenge an order but the decision would be subject to review in the Supreme Court at the instigation of the relative pursuant to the Judicial Review Act 1990.

Further Information

Aboriginal, Family and Community Counselling Services

Australian Indigenous Health Info Net

Dulwich Centre

Indigenous Trauma, Loss and Grief network, ANU