Investigating Unexpected Death: Values and Attitudes in Coronial Autopsies

In 2017, coroners ordered 85,600 post-mortem examinations, comprising 37% of all reported deaths. The coronial autopsy process has been criticised for being underfunded and lacking in forensic expertise. This can be contrasted with suspicious death cases, where post-mortems are carried out by well-paid specialist forensic pathologists who are critical of the coronial autopsy process. Whilst there is technical medical literature considering post-mortem pathology, scant attention has been paid to the theoretical and socio-legal context of coronial autopsies. This exploratory research addresses this gap. It will provide overdue insight into this intersection of medicine, law and society, shedding light on the role of state mandated death investigation and its impact on the living. The research will draw together philosophical and legal debates and use the accounts of those who conduct coronial autopsies to analyse whether the current system pays sufficient respect to the interests of deceased persons, the bereaved, and society.

This project will:

i) Explore and evaluate the attitudes and practices of coronial pathologists and Anatomical Pathology Technicians (ATPs) in relation to the interests of, and in, the deceased body.

ii) Analyse the results of (i) in light of current legal, political, economic, and social debates.

ii) Disseminate findings and engage stakeholders with the research findings.

iii) Establish an interdisciplinary network with a view to developing and responding to emerging research agendas through future research.

Project website