Jewish and Muslim families will be able to prevent pathologists from cutting open the bodies of their loved ones for autopsies, the government announced Tuesday.
Coroners will consider faith issues when deciding how to determine the cause of a death and, where possible, will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning rather than an invasive autopsy.
Muslim and Jewish communities object to invasive post mortems because they conflict with religious beliefs about the sanctity of the body.
The announcement by the Ministry of Justice is part of the biggest overhaul of the death certification and coroners system for more than 100 years.
Bridget Prentice, a junior justice minister, said: “The loss of a loved one is extremely difficult for any family to deal with. For some individuals and members of faith groups, the thought of an invasive post mortem can compound the grief and distress, particularly when the procedure is against the tenets of the individual’s faith.”
A trial scheme is already being conducted by Coroner Jennifer Leeming in Salford and Bolton.
Leeming has been piloting a system where pathologists can use a hospital scanner to determine the cause of death instead of the conventional autopsy.
The MRI scans have been operated out-of-hours by radiographers at North Manchester General Hospital and Rochdale Infirmary with the results sent back to the coroner on a computer disc.
Leeming said the results are “more than 99 percent” accurate.
The area has a large Jewish and Muslim community, but the scan is available to people of all faiths.
However, the Ministry made clear that because an MRI scan may not be the appropriate means to determining a cause of death in every case, the coroner will be required to make the decision on a case by case basis.