This is a medical examination of the body, which may find out more about the cause of death. It may delay when you can have the funeral, so you should not book a funeral until a coroner’s officer has told you.
When a death is reported to HM Coroner, the coroner will consider carefully whether a post mortem examination is necessary. The coroner has the authority to make the final decision and, if necessary, can order an examination even if the family does not agree. If you are a close relative, you are entitled to have a doctor represent you at the examination. If the person dies in hospital, you may ask the coroner to arrange for the examination to be carried out by a pathologist not employed by that hospital.
After the examination, if the pathologist has retained any organs or tissue, the coroner’s officer will ask you what you would like to happen to these. You will need to make a decision before the body can be released.
Coroners know that many families object to a post mortem examination being performed on their relative, and understand and respect the basis of these objections, be they religious or other. However, coroners must uphold the law and apply it fairly to everyone. Particularly where it seems possible that death has a natural cause, coroner’s officers make every effort to trace a doctor who may be able to certify the cause of death, though sometimes this does mean that there will be a delay in the release of the deceased for funeral.
Requesting a scan instead of an invasive autopsy
Where death appears to be natural but the coroner decides that an examination must be performed to find out the medical cause, if there is a realistic possibility that a scan will establish the cause of death, a family can ask for a scan to be performed at their own expense.
Scans are not always suitable or useful. There are some medical conditions that scans do not detect. The coroner will consider the request carefully.
If the coroner agrees, scans will generally be performed late at night, when hospital staff and scanners are not so busy with patients. If a scan proves unsatisfactory, then an invasive post mortem examination will follow, usually very early the next morning.
The coroner will usually pay to remove the person’s body from where they died to the public mortuary or hospital for the scan or examination, and will choose a funeral director to do this. You can then choose your own funeral director to carry out the funeral, once the examination has been concluded and the coroner has given permission for release.
If the scan or examination shows that a person has died from natural causes, the coroner may issue a notice that shows the cause of death, so that the death can be registered. If you would like a cremation, the coroner will give your undertaker the certificate for cremation that allows you to arrange this.
Moving a body out of England and Wales
Your undertaker will be able to help you if you want to bury your family member in another country.
If you want to move the body out of England and Wales (for example, so that you can have the funeral abroad), your undertaker must get the coroner’s permission. This needs to be sought at least four working days before you want the body to be moved. Sometimes, the coroner may be able to give permission sooner. After the coroner’s office has finished their inquiries, they will give your undertaker an out of country order. Part of this form will be sent to the registrar. Also, you will usually need to have two copies of the death certificate.
This procedure applies in all cases where the body is to be moved out of England or Wales, not just when the death has been reported to the coroner.