Indian mother’s doggedness forces re-look at autopsy law

September 2nd, 2008 - 12:01 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 2 (IANS) The perseverance of an Indian mother who lost her five-month-old baby in Britain in 2000 has forced the government to examine whether autopsy should be made mandatory on the slightest suspicion of foul play, even without a trial being held in India.Thanks to Sadhna Chaudhary’s case, the Law Commission has asked the government “to constitute an independent authority, known as ‘Coroners’, to enquire into the true and real causes of death of a person, even if such a person dies outside the territorial limits of the country”.

Chaudhary fought a pitched legal battle for over seven years in Britain and then India to know the exact cause of her infant’s death at King George Hospital, Essex, in Britain, in October 2000. She suspected medical negligence behind the death.

She preserved the baby’s body in mortuaries in Britain. Faced with an ultimatum to cremate the body, she flew the body to India and launched another round of legal battle in India. She kept the body in a mortuary in Paharganj.

But the Supreme Court in January this year dismissed her plea, endorsing an earlier ruling by the Delhi High Court that an autopsy was not possible in India without the possibility of a trial. Subsequently she gave up the body.

But now the Law Commission has proposed to provide for autopsy irrespective of whether a subsequent police probe or a criminal trial is feasible because the death has occurred abroad.

Prevalent Indian penal laws do not provide for post-mortem of a body in the absence of the possibility of a criminal probe and trial.

As per prevalent laws, even if an Indian citizen is found dead abroad under mysterious circumstances, the Indian authorities cannot conduct autopsy on the body brought to the country unless the foreign country wants it to conduct a police probe into the death.

The Law Commission has recommended the enactment of a new Coroners Act on the lines of the British Coroners Act, 1988, and akin to its native Coroners Act of 1871 vintage, which is applicable within a small area in Mumbai and Kolkata.

The commission made the recommendation on a direction by the Delhi High Court which, while dismissing Chaudhary’s plea, asked it to examine the need to have a law for mandatory autopsy on the body of any Indian on slightest suspicion of foul play behind the death in India or abroad.

The high court had issued the direction on Oct 10 last year.

Chaudhary’s heart-wrenching story had begun the day she conceived for the first time in 1999 five years after marriage. The doctors diagnosed the foetus to be suffering from the rare Edward Syndrome, which entails a slim chance of survival for the baby and advised her to terminate the pregnancy.

Ignoring the doctors’ advice, she went on with the pregnancy and gave birth to a child through normal delivery at the King George Hospital in May 2000.

Within days of the birth, the child was operated upon for diaphragmatic hernia - a medical condition where the abdominal parts exert pressure on the heart. But the baby made a remarkable recovery and was discharged from the hospital by mid-September with doctors noting that her heart wounds were healing well.

In her petition to the courts here, she said the baby had to be admitted again to the hospital within days of discharge due to complications arising out of overdose of a medicine administered by a family physician who had tended to the child when outside the hospital.

The hospital authorities then said the baby was suffering from Edward Syndrome and got legal permission to let the child die and eventually put her to sleep by administering an overdose of potassium chloride, used on terminally ill patients or condemned prisoners.

(Ajit Rana can be contacted at

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