BVI News


Lawmakers promise shorter wait for bodies – BILL PASSED


By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff

Lawmakers yesterday passed a new Bill that they said will help bring ‘relief’ to people who would otherwise endure stress and a protracted wait for the authorities to hand over their loved ones’ bodies for burial.

The Bill titled Coroners Act 2017 makes provision for the establishment of the Office of the Coroner and Medical Examiner, and for related matters such as investigating unnatural deaths by inquest. The new law will also replace another piece of legislation that has been in existence for 67 years – so long that it is out of whack with the Virgin Islands Constitution 2007.

According to Attorney General Baba Aziz, the most fundamental change is that the proposed law makes provision for a Medical Examiner.

For decades, the Coroner who is a legal practitioner is usually required to make decisions about unnatural deaths. “That placed an unfortunate and unfair burden on the Coroner who is not usually a medical practitioner,” noted Premier Dr D Orlando Smith.

He added, “We thought that the introduction of this particular position (Medical Examiner) would give a lot of help to the Coroner.” The Medical Examiner, under the proposed law, must have specialist training in pathology and experience in forensic medicine.

The holder of the post will also be required to testify as a witness at inquests. He or she will conduct post mortems if necessary, and make a report about the cause of death to the Coroner. “In such report, the Medical Examiner shall state whether or not, in his or her opinion, any further inquiry ought to be made as to the circumstances under which the deceased came by his or her death,” added the attorney general, Aziz, who piloted the Bill through the House.

Too long waiting for bodies

Most lawmakers who contributed to a debate on the Bill yesterday (April 19), said the new law will bring ‘relief’ to residents and visitors who have to wait relatively long for the bodies of their loved ones, due to delays in processes such as post mortems.

Dr Pickering

Dr Pickering

Those instances of protracted wait are troubling, said Minister of Health Ronnie Skelton. “It has been a set of troubling circumstances for people of this country and even visitors who have lost loved ones. It is still extremely difficult for timely processes for the loved ones to receive the remains of their loved ones.”

Premier Smith, who stated that he has had to conduct post mortems locally in his capacity as a medical practitioner, lamented that the protracted wait for bodies has “actually caused quite a lot of stress as far as families are concerned”.

Choosing to die at home

Adding his voice to the debate, Deputy Premier Dr Kedrick Pickering expressed hope that, with a Medical Examiner in place, there will be an end to the humiliation families face even when their terminally ill loved ones die at home.

He explained what sometimes happens. “The police have to be called and the Coroner had to be called, and they have to search the people’s house upside down and check every closet and have to call this and that, and there is another long set of story. This [deceased] is somebody who was in the hospital terminally ill, and requested to go home so they could spend their last days; and the family had to be subjected to – the colloquial expression – all of this rigmarole.”

Bodies to be exhumed

Dr Pickering, who also worked in the local healthcare system, lauded the fact that the proposed law contains provision for bodies to be exhumed.

“It even go so far to give the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Coroner the authority to exhume a body in cases where they think that additional information might have been missing, or was needed to help in deciding and deciphering the legal aspects of the deaths surrounding the person. The bill does a very good job in terms of its outline,” added Dr Pickering.

Attorney General, Baba Aziz. GIS photo

Attorney General, Baba Aziz. GIS photo

In the meantime, the attorney general, Aziz, noted that the Bill has several other provisions including a clause that enables inquests to be held with or without jurors.

The Coroner, under the Bill, may hold an inquest without receiving a report from the Medical Examiner.

The Coroner, at any point in an investigation, can order the Medical Examiner to conduct a post mortem or special examination.

The proposed law also provides for offences and penalties associated with some offences. “Offences include burial without a warrant, refusal to report a death, refusal or neglect of jurors to perform their duties, and refusal of the witness to perform their duties [is] contempt of court,” the attorney general said.

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  1. No disrespect, just truth and freedom! says:

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

    Proponents of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) contend that terminally ill people should have the right to end their suffering with a quick, dignified, and compassionate death.

    Hence, euthanasia is also an end of life decision that should be considered into law in the BVI, as is in many countries.

    It should have been an integral element of the newly revised and implemented provisions relative to that topic and subsequent law(s).

    It is a necessary and needed legal avenue of choice that would be utilized by many and should be afforded to its citizens.

    The legalities can be worked out to the benefit of all concerned.

    As, many would rather chose not to exist in an incapacitated “vegetable state of non existence” for decades.

    Further, in a non reversible state of non-cognitive awareness and or physical incapacity and or interaction with the environment, a choice should be available if one, through a will decree or a family consensus, chooses to utilize that individual freedom of choice.

    Hope lawmakers will reconsider such an amendment.

    • Yo says:

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

      That has nothing to do with the Coroner’s Act.

      Persons need to have advanced directives in place and living wills to govern how their affairs are to be handled and those decisions made in eventualities where they are terminal or certified brain dead.

      Euthanasia and PAS should not be on the cards at all.

      In such cases life-saving, life-prolonging, life-sustaining, or any heroic measures can be withheld and persons be allowed to die naturally if proper advanced directives are in place.

      Termination of human life through euthanasia and PAS is and should remain illegal.

  2. A Flexible Approach ! says:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    I Agree with you 100%, and wonder if it is still possible to have the requisite amendment introduced.

  3. Lodger says:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    For years governments have resisted employing a resident pathologist, on the grounds that he/she would not be fully occupied. This is not before time. Has it been brought on by the fact that the territory can only store no more than six bodies, and if the overseas patholgist cannot get here for some time, then they have a problem?

  4. Revenue Source says:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    When a body leaves the BVI, I sure hope the gov’t collects the departure tax. Hate to see that revenue go to waste.

  5. No disrespect, just truth and freedom! says:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    A flexible Approach!: Hopefully so!

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