Invasive autopsies and religious objections: Rotsztein v HM Senior Coroner for Inner London [revised]

My original post of 4 August (now taken down) was based on the note by Lawtel and media reports: the following is based on a copy of the judgment as approved by the Court 


In Rotsztein v HM Senior Coroner for Inner London [2015] EWHC (Admin) 2764 the issue before the court was the balance to be struck between the duty of a coroner properly to establish cause of death and a family’s desire, out of religious conviction, for the deceased’s body to remain intact.

Following the death of 86-year-old Sarlotta Rotsztein, an Orthodox Jew, in September 2014 at the Royal Free Hospital, there were differing medical opinions about the cause of death: the GP attributed it to acute cardiac failure or myocardial infarction; however, the Specialist Cardiology Registrar did not think that the clinical picture was of a primary cardiac event. Her treating consultant, Dr Nagus, advised referral of the case of her death to the coroner because the cause of death was unclear [4].

The Inner London Coroner noted at the foot of the report of Mrs Rotsztein’s death [5] that

There is a direct conflict between view of hospital doctors and GP, so -> pm.

Jewish law strictly forbids the desecration of a corpse and requires it to be buried promptly: if possible on the day of death. In a signed witness statement the senior Dayan of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in the UK stated that the avoidance of desecration of the corpse was a stronger imperative than the avoidance of delaying a burial [6]. (According to media reports, the Muslim Council of Britain also made a written submission that the case was of general public importance, “in particular to the religious community in Britain. Muslim families who suffer bereavement share the religious concerns of Jews and members of other faiths. These principal concerns are that burial should take place as soon as practicable after death and that there should be no desecration of the body.”)

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