Invasive post-mortems and religious sensibilities: Polat v Austria

The background

In Polat v Austria [2021] ECHR 658, Ms Polat had given birth to a son, YM, in hospital in 2007. His birth was premature, he weighed less than 900 grams and, despite intensive medical care, he died two days later [8]. Ms Polat and her husband, Turkish Muslims, refused their consent to a post-mortem [9] – but their consent was not required by law and the post-mortem was carried out regardless. They had explained that, in accordance with their Muslim beliefs, they wished to wash the corpse prior to the funeral and that, for that purpose, it had to remain as unscathed as possible [7]. In the event, however, most of YM’s organs were removed for preservation, including a large part of his urinary tract – which meant that his sex was no longer apparent [10 & 12].

At the funeral back in Turkey, when Ms Polat and her helper undressed the body for ritual washing they were severely shocked and Ms Polat fainted. Continue reading