Inquest plans 'would add to families' grief'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 May, 1996, 12:00am

A planned shake-up in inquest laws would needlessly add to the pain of grieving relatives, doctors warned.

They said yesterday that the proposed new Coroner's Ordinance would force them to report hundreds of deaths a year where the causes were natural and known.

This would create a huge increase in coroners' workloads, hamper funeral arrangements and heighten the suffering of the dead person's family, they said.

Medical Association vice-president Dr So Kai-ming also attacked plans for doctors to report deaths to the police rather than to a coroner.

He said it was an 'unnecessary nuisance' which would lead to pointless investigations into natural deaths and additional heartache for relatives.

Doctors are also protesting about moves to give coroners wide powers to search hospitals.

Dr So claimed the provision could cause disruption to medical services and interfere with patient confidentiality.

Under the existing Coroner's Ordinance it is often left to the doctor's discretion whether a death should be reported to a coroner.

But if the bill becomes law it will be mandatory to report all deaths: Caused by anaesthetic, occurring under anaesthetic or within 24 hours of its administration; Caused by an operation or occurring within the next three days; Occurring within 30 days of childbirth, an abortion or a miscarriage; Where the deceased was not seen by a doctor a fortnight or less before death.

Dr So said: 'We're very concerned about these provisions. They do not allow for any flexibility and should be deleted.

'At the moment there are about 30,000 deaths a year, 5,000 of which are reported. With such wide provisions the increase in the workload will be tremendous.

'It will cause delays. With all the uncertainty and the hassle of an investigation, you can imagine the additional trauma and grief for the relatives.' The association is drawing up recommendations for redrafting the bill following a meeting with Legislative Councillors last week.

Association president Dr Lee Kin-hung said: 'They have realised the impact on the public. We are now looking at how the bill can be improved to avoid causing inconvenience to the public or unnecessary grief.' Government comment on the criticisms was unavailable last night.