Refusing post-mortems

Published June 13, 2022

WHEN a suspicious death occurs, acceding to the wishes of grieving family members in disallowing the post-mortem of their loves one may appear humane but it does not serve the ends of justice. After well-known televangelist Aamir Liaquat died on Thursday, his family refused to allow an autopsy. Police officials, to their credit, did not acquiesce, and instead, went to the court in an effort to take custody of the body which had been kept in the mortuary. However, the judicial magistrate ordered that the mortal remains be handed over to the family and Aamir Liaquat was buried on Friday, with no one the wiser as to why the 50-year-old who apparently had no serious health problems had breathed his last.

There have been many instances when the legal requirement for autopsies is treated as a matter of choice for the family of the deceased. Under Section 174 of the CrPc, when “there is any doubt regarding the cause of death,” as well as in certain other circumstances, the police officer “shall” send the body for a post-mortem. However, the relevant courts can and do, allow families of the dead to refuse the procedure. Meanwhile, police officials and its forensics team on the day of the televangelist’s death had reportedly collected evidence from his residence, but in the absence of an autopsy, it may not be enough to arrive at a conclusive cause of death. The rumours, one may be sure, will continue to proliferate. Treating post-mortems as a matter of choice rather than a mandatory requirement can also benefit the accused in cases of confirmed foul play. The body of the deceased can be a valuable repository of evidence that can hold up in court. The killers of Maulana Samiul Haq have never been found; the JUI-S leader’s family refused an autopsy citing religious reasons. The most high-profile case of this kind was of course that of Benazir Bhutto, whose murder in 2007 remains a subject of speculation to this day.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2022

Editorial

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