A report produced by New Zealand Doctors Speaking Out with Science (“NZDSOS”) on the Coroner’s Amendment Bill has brought up serious questions about investigations into deaths in New Zealand.
A deceased person is usually referred to a Coroner when a medical doctor is not able to write a death certificate because they are not confident of the cause of death or are not comfortable with the circumstances surrounding the death.
This Bill proposes to allow a legally trained person to sign off the cause of death as “unascertained natural causes” when a medically trained person is unable to do so. That sounds fishy and the people of New Zealand think so too if the submissions are anything to go by.
A spokesperson for NZDSOS said, “it is clear on glancing through the submissions [to the Justice Select Committee], New Zealanders see this amendment as a cover-up attempt, either by accident or design”.
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Proposed Changes to the Coroners Act 2006
The Bill, currently going through the House, aims to speed up the process of coronial investigations so family members are not left in limbo for years. Proposed recommendations include:
- Establishing a new position of ‘coronial associate’;
- Recording cause of death as ‘unascertained natural causes’ in certain circumstances;
- Enabling coroners to hold coronial inquiry solely in chambers, where appropriate;
- Enabling written findings to be issued stating cause of death only, where appropriate, not circumstances.
Written submissions were due on 28 Sept 2022. Oral submissions for the Bill were presented to the Justice Select Committee on 6 October. It is interesting to note that there are no medical people on this Select Committee and that the coronial service is run by the Ministry of Justice.
“The reactions from some of the Committee were mixed, to say the least, but they know now that they are under scrutiny for any wrong-doing “, said the NZDSOS spokesperson.
Several submitters spoke of a ‘slippery slope’. One suggested that rather than fobbing deaths off as “unascertained natural causes,” a more correct classification would be “sudden death – not investigated.”
Several pathologists and forensic pathologists voiced their concerns about the lack of medical input and suggested that a pathologist or forensic pathologist be included in, or aligned with, the coronial service.
Several people spoke about suicide and the protracted, unsupported, imbalanced, adversarial nature of the current coronial system.
There were over 2600 written submissions, the vast majority of them appearing to oppose the Bill. From glancing through a random selection, it is easy to see that Kiwis who submitted are strongly of the opinion that this government is trying to hide something by bringing in this Bill at this time, NZDSOS said.
The Role of Coroners Should be Strengthened not Weakened
There are at least two very good reasons why the Coroner’s Act and the role of the coroner should be strengthened at this time rather than watered down.
New Zealand and countries across the planet, are in the middle of phase 4 clinical trial, or post-marketing surveillance, for Covid injections including the Pfizer injection used in New Zealand. The phase 3 Pfizer trial involving the original 44,000 participants is also ongoing. It is not due for completion until Feb 2023.
“In a phase 4 clinical trial every death of a person who received the medication would typically be investigated and reported on,” said the NZDSOS spokesperson. “This is clearly not happening and is likely to happen even less if a coronial associate can sign off a death as ‘unascertained natural causes.”
Many other countries, including New Zealand, are experiencing an alarming rise in all-cause mortality which has not been adequately explained. “The role of a comprehensive coronial service with the ability to do thorough investigations on an increased number of deceased people is more important now than ever before”, said the NZDSOS spokesperson.
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