Coronial legislation now allows for a family’s religious and cultural status and concerns about the autopsy be communicated to the police at the time of the death notification. Those most consistently identified as having a proscription against the autopsy are Indigenous people and those of Jewish and Muslim faiths. The Coroner still has the final determination as to whether or not an internal autopsy will proceed as the autopsy is a legislative requirement rather than relying on familial consent.

This involvement of families is a relatively recent addition to coronial legislation, influenced by an increasing multicultural awareness and tolerance of difference by public authorities. Autopsies generally take three forms: external examination of the body, and/or a partial internal autopsy, and/or a full internal autopsy.

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 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

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies