A major step to enshrine non-invasive post mortems in English law was revealed by Justice Minister Bridget Prentice on Tuesday.
The move could dramatically reduce hundreds of surgical post-mortems carried out annually on Jewish people against their families’ wishes and halachah (Jewish law).
It is understood that an amendment to recommend the use of non-invasive methods may be made to the Coroners and Justice Bill when it is debated in the House of Lords.
The current draft only mentions scanning in its explanatory notes. The Bill is the first reform to the coroners’ system in 100 years and would also represent the first legal backing for an alternative to post-mortems.
Ms Prentice made the disclosure on a special visit to meet Jewish and Muslim campaigners at an MRI scanning facility at the Rochdale Infirmary in Greater Manchester. The facility is being used to try out non-invasive post-mortems.
She said: “Jack Straw and I are very keen to develop non-invasive methods. Using what’s happening here feeds our intelligence as to what would be a good way forward.”
Currently, coroners often opt for a surgical procedure simply because they do not recognise scanning as a viable alternative. But Bolton coroner Jennifer Leeming, who is advising the government on the Bill, says a specific legislative reference to MRI scanning is vital to changing this.
Ms Leeming said: “The change will provide the impetus to negotiate offering the service nationwide. I very much welcome the minister’s assurances which she has made on the record to promote scanning.”
Jewish campaigner Shlomo Adler, whose efforts, he says, have reduced post-mortems on Jews in Manchester by 98 per cent, said the minister’s visit had “keyed her into the concept of scanning”.
He said: “I broached the possibility of funding scans through the NHS with the minister. It can cost families £1,000 at the moment, but could cost a fraction of that by scanning out of hours and asking NHS radiologists to read the scans during the day.”
Ms Prentice left Rochdale with the suggestion that a committee, including representatives from the Department of Health, could look at funding issues.
David Frei, external and legal services director at the United Synagogue, commented: “We welcome the government’s decision. We have been speaking to them for some time on this issue and we are grateful for their sensitivity to the community’s religious concerns.”