US funds MRI as autopsy alternative

The United Synagogue is offering to pay up to £1,700 for non-invasive MRI scans as an alternative to a surgical autopsy for members.

It has taken the decision in the light of concern over the increasing number of surgical post-mortems carried out on Jews against their families’ wishes and halachah.

Last year, 80 autopsies were conducted on deceased congregants, almost double the total for 2008.

Until now, families opposed to post-mortems had to pay on average £1,300 for MRI scans. As a contribution towards potential costs, the US will charge members an extra £2 annually on burial fees.

Said head of burial Melvyn Hartog: “When a loved one passes away, the last thing anyone wants to deal with is an autopsy. We all want to avoid the distress of autopsies which not only desecrate the deceased’s body but make the grief of a sad loss all the harder to bear. I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to make this possible for our members at such a small cost.”

However, the burial society needs permission from the coroner for an MRI scan — and an autopsy may still be required afterwards. “It’s the luck of the draw with the coroner because they can refuse it, but we do feel more coroners are more open-minded about scans now,” Mr Hartog added.

At the London Beth Din — which is urging the government to recommend non-invasive autopsy methods as part of the Coroners and Justice Bill — senior dayan Rabbi Menachem Gelley welcomed the burial society’s move.

It was “consistent with halachah and allows the deceased’s body to be treated with the respect and dignity it merits”.

Last updated: 4:11pm, January 7 2010