Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Long wait for post-mortems distressing

Published:Saturday | September 17, 2016 | 12:00 AM


A violent death can prove excruciatingly painful, the anguish of which can last from days to weeks or months and sometimes lingering for years, or even a whole lifetime, depending on the circumstances, emotional reactions of those affected, and the counselling, compensation and other forms of sympathetic support they may received, or may not have, especially in the immediate aftermath of their sudden loss.

Following violent deaths, the legal requirements and administrative processes can sometimes prove frustrating and protracted for relatives to get a certificate to bury their loved ones, sometimes taking up to six months or more.

In this regard, the Government has a very critical role to ensure that all the stipulated protocols, especially post-mortems be done in an efficient and timely manner to lessen, and not to add to, the burden of distress of grieving relatives.




It is, indeed, distressing when grieving relatives have to wait, on average, for four to six weeks for a postmortem following violent death. Besides the relatively long wait, it is usually a period of real anxiety from the uncertainty regarding the date when the procedure would be done, which definitely compounds grief.

I am reliably informed that the autopsies were done three months after, when three family members were killed in one night in western Jamaica; and that there are now cases waiting for three months or more for an autopsy.

One of the reasons for the protracted wait for these post-mortems is the restructuring and centralisation of this process. post-mortems for police cases are now done by government forensic pathologists, who are more than overworked given there are only three employed in this capacity.

Previously, some district medical officers (general practitioners with more than five years' experience in primary health care) also performed autopsies. I am reliably informed by one such colleague who did post-mortems for over a decade that his waiting time was only two weeks to issue a postmortem examination report.

The process cannot be rushed. Established protocols need to be strictly adhered to, to ensure accuracy, given that there are many serious and far-reaching medico-legal implications. The Government should, therefore, employ more specialists, craft policies to encourage more doctors to specialise in this field, and even reassess the decision for centralisation, and once again allow the input of district medical officers to expedite post-mortems to lessen the distress of relatives grieving the violent loss of loved ones.