Volume 3, Issue 1, April 2008
BEH, SL Philip
Associate Professor (Forensic Pathology), Department of Pathology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine The University of Hong Kong
The autopsyinterview is an anomaly which arose in Hong Kong at a time when the Coroner did not speak the local language and the police officer investigating the death had very little medical knowledge. The hospital anatomical pathologists and forensic pathologists were therefore delegated the task of obtaining medical information from the Cantonese speaking next-of-kin which may be related to the death and providing a written English summary for the Coroner. The legal authority on the decision to autopsy or to waive an autopsy had always rested with the Coroner. However, the practical decisions were effectively made by the pathologists based on the available me dical information or the lack of information.
In the context of this background, the autopsy interview developed in Hong Kong. It was a relatively easy exercise for the pathologist. The next-of-kin of the deceased attended interviews with the pathologist in the presence of a police officer. The pathologist asked for medical history and details of the circumstances of the death. The next-of-kin in the 70’s and 80’s were told an autopsy was to be performed as it was a legal requirement. In the rare circum stances where a request was made to waive the autopsy, the pathologist had to be convinced of the existence of a probable cause of death. Where none was evident, the application for waiver was denied and the opportunity to make the written waiver application denied too. The autopsy was again duly ordered by the Coroner on the basis that if the pathologist was unable to provide a cause of death, the cause of death was unknown and had to be established.