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What is a post-mortem examination?
A post-mortem is a medical examination of a body carried out for the coroner by a pathologist of the coroner's choice. Coroners will give notice of the need for a post-mortem examination unless this is not practicable or would unduly delay the examination.
The consent of the next-of-kin is not required for a coroner's post-mortem, but the next-of-kin are entitled to be represented at the examination by a doctor of their choice.
You can ask the coroner for a separate post-mortem examination, at your own expense and by a pathologist of your choice. If the coroner has released the body, you will need the consent of the executor of the dead person's estate.
If you are the next-of-kin, you have the right:
You may also:
Post-mortem examination report
A post-mortem examination report gives details of the examination of the body. It may also give details of any laboratory tests which have been carried out. Copies of the report will normally be available to the next-of-kin and to certain other relatives. A fee may be payable.
Consequences of the post-mortem examination results
If a post-mortem examination reveals that the death was due to natural causes and that an inquest is not needed, the coroner will release the body and inform the registrar. You can then register the death and a death certificate can be issued. The funeral can then take place.
The coroner can also issue a burial order or cremation certificate after the post-mortem examination is completed. If charges have been brought against somebody for causing the death, it may be necessary to have a second post-mortem or further investigations and the release of the body and the funeral arrangements will be delayed.
If there is to be an inquest, an interim certificate of the fact of death can be issued by the coroner to assist in the administration of the estate. When the inquest is completed, the coroner will notify the registrar. A death certificate can then be obtained.
Access to medical records by the coroner
Medical records remain confidential after death. However, coroners are entitled to request medical information that is relevant and necessary to their enquiries.
If you wish to consider organ donation, you will need immediate advice. This can be sought from a hospital or doctor, or from the coroner's officer. The coroner must be told and must agree before organs can be removed. In some cases, organ donation may not be possible for medical reasons or because of the delays when a death has to be investigated.