Hong Kong Med J 1998;4:191-4 | Number 2, June 1998
The likely implications of the 1997 Coroners Ordinance on the autopsy service of a teaching hospital
SL Beh, P Dickens, EPY Kam, L Ong
Department of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary Hospital Compound, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong
The new Hong Kong Coroners Ordinance was published in April 1997. It introduced an expanded set of guidelines for reporting deaths to the coroner as well as the threat of criminal proceedings for non- compliance. The Ordinance is due to be implemented in early 1998. The aim of this study is to determine the likely effect of the new law on the relative proportion of coroner’s and hospital (consent) autopsies. A total of 352 consecutive autopsy cases were reviewed; 170 (48.3%) were referred for coroner’s autopsies and 182 (51.7%) for hospital autopsies. By applying the criteria of the current ordinance, there should have been 213 (60.5%) coroner’s autopsies and 139 (39.5%) hospital autopsies—that is, 43 hospital autopsies should have been coroner’s autopsies. Under the new Coroners Ordinance, there would be 300 (85.2%) coroner’s autopsies and only 52 (14.8%) hospital autopsies. The new Coroners Ordinance is likely to result in a greater number of requests for coroner’s autopsies with a corresponding decline in hospital autopsies—in our case, a shift from 48.3% of all autopsies performed to 85.2%! This increase would be due largely to the requirement for reporting stillbirths but would also be due to increased reporting for fear of ‘criminal proceedings’ for non-compliance. An absolute increase in the number of autopsies is also anticipated, although the magnitude cannot as yet be predicted.
Key words: Autopsy; Coroners and medical examiners; Hong Kong; Medical audit; Practice guidelines; Professional practice
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