Page last updated at 11:55 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 12:55 UK

Coroners get MRI body scan option

MRI brain scan results
Pathologists have been using body scanners

Bereaved families who object to a traditional post-mortem on religious or other grounds could opt for a body scan instead, under government plans.

Ministers say some people, including some members of the Muslim and Jewish faiths, are uncomfortable with invasive post-mortem examinations.

A trial has seen pathologists using MRI scanners instead in Greater Manchester.

It will be extended across the UK next year if the Coroners and Justice Bill completes its Parliamentary passage.

Under the new system, coroners will be able to consider faith issues and the wishes of bereaved families when deciding what type of post-mortem should take place.

Bereaved 'charter'

Coroners will make the decision on a case-by-case basis as MRI scans may not always be the appropriate means to determining a cause of death, the government said.

Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said: "The loss of a loved one is extremely difficult for any family to deal with. For some individuals and members of faith groups, the thought of an invasive post-mortem can compound the grief and distress, particularly when the procedure is against the tenets of the individual's faith.

"We have listened carefully to bereaved families and are pleased to propose these reforms which will allow coroners to consider the wishes of the family and faith issues and where possible conduct an MRI scan in place of an invasive post-mortem."

Further reforms will ensure post-mortems can be carried out more quickly to respond to the need of religions that demand speedy burials or cremations.

Ms Prentice is to discuss the planned changes with religious leaders on a visit to the MRI scanner at Rochdale Infirmary, in Greater Manchester.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said that "justice and establishing the cause of death will always come first" but the new system will allow some flexibility "if it is a straightforward case".

The changes will apply to all bereaved families, the spokesman added, who will have their rights set out in a Charter for the Bereaved.

A trial scheme is already being conducted by Coroner Jennifer Leeming in Salford and Bolton, which has a large Jewish and Muslim community.

Coroners have a duty to try to establish the cause of death. Currently the family of the deceased have no right to block a post-mortem if the coroner decides it is necessary to explain the death.

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