Page 46 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 25 February 2014

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investigation for good reason, the first amendment to section 13 will change the requirement for an inquest to be held into the death of a person that occurs after medical intervention so that the trigger for the inquest is a death within 24 hours and not 72 hours after the intervention as at present.

The ACT is the only jurisdiction in Australia other than South Australia that currently has a time limit requiring an inquest into deaths occurring within a stated time frame after a medical procedure. This amendment brings the ACT into line with the 24-hour time limit currently in place in South Australia.

Our coronial system will continue to maintain its capacity to pursue an investigation and autopsy in any potentially suspicious circumstances. A coronial investigation will still be required if a person dies as a result of a medical, surgical or dental operation or an invasive medical or diagnostic procedure.

The second amendment being proposed to tackle the high rate of unnecessary coronial inquests is to change the requirement for an inquest to be held into the manner and cause of death of a person who dies without having seen a doctor within three months to a death where a person has not seen a doctor within six months.

The extension of time will address those instances where a person dies without having seen a doctor for longer than three months and yet it is well documented that the person suffered from a potentially life threatening natural disease which would adequately account for the death and where there were no suspicious circumstances.

To ensure that an autopsy occurs only to the extent that is strictly necessary to obtain the information the coroner requires, the final amendment to the dictionary in the Coroners Act includes a new definition of “post-mortem examination”. The new definition makes clear that a post-mortem examination can also include other types of physical examination other than the dissection of the body, such as an external examination including taking skin or other samples or a post-mortem examination using a CT or MRI scan.

A full autopsy may be required on occasions but is not always necessary to meet the needs of the coronial process. The coronial process and the suggestion that it is necessary for a death to go through a full autopsy can be traumatising and disturbing for the families of people who have passed on. By limiting the deaths that are subject to this invasive process, the impact on families in our community is reduced. Avoiding unnecessary coronial investigation is fundamental to respecting the dignity of the deceased and minimising the impact on their families when they are at a very vulnerable time.

An amendment to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1977 further ensures that deaths only undergo investigation for good reasons. The bill will allow a doctor, other than a treating doctor, to issue a cause of death certificate if the doctor is able to form an opinion about the probable cause of death based on information about the deceased person’s medical history and the circumstances of the death. This will prevent a death becoming a matter for coronial investigation simply because a person’s usual doctor is on an extended leave of absence from work or otherwise unavailable.

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