Dealing with Death: A Handbook of Practices, Procedures and Law

Dealing with Death: A Handbook of Practices, Procedures and Law

Dealing with Death: A Handbook of Practices, Procedures and Law

Dealing with Death: A Handbook of Practices, Procedures and Law


Dealing with Death is a comprehensive and authoritative source of information for professionals on the procedures, laws and cultural customs that should be observed when someone dies. This completely updated and expanded second edition takes into account the recent changes in UK law and the impact of the Harold Shipman and Alder Hey enquiries.


At the beginning of the 20th century, the population of the United Kingdom was almost entirely white, Anglo-Saxon and Christian. Medicine and surgery were, by today's standards, primitive; 90 per cent of deaths occurred at home, many in young people; and less than 5 per cent were the subject of coronial inquiry. Earth burial was the rule. Families were close both geographically and socially; dying, death, disposal and bereavement were part of everyday life.

Today, we are a long-lived multi-ethnic society; a substantial majority of deaths occur in institutions; cremation is by far the commonest method of disposal; and a Coroner is involved in the investigation of more than one-third of all deaths. If proposed new legislation is introduced (unlikely before 2010), all deaths will be referred to the coronial service in the first instance. The average adult, however, has had little personal experience with the social, legal and technical aspects of death.

Since the first edition of this book was published in 1992, several major events have occurred which have changed public attitudes to the investigation of death, in particular to autopsy and tissue retention. These in turn have led to major legislative changes, notably the Human Tissue Act (2004), proposed changes in death and cremation certification and in the respective roles of the Registrar and Coroner. We had hoped that these changes would have been fully implemented during the preparation of this book. This was not to be, although registration procedures have been simplified. We have tried to anticipate as accurately as possible the nature of the proposed changes and the approximate timetable for their introduction.

Health care professionals, funeral directors, police officers, Coroners and Registrars have to deal with clients from numerous religious and ethnic minorities, in circumstances where grief may easily be increased and offence be unwittingly inflicted.

This book aims to provide a brief but comprehensive guide to the current laws controlling, and the customs surrounding, the disposal of the dead. It is intended to complement, rather than supplant, the many authoritative texts already available, reducing a vast body of knowledge to a manageable size, and providing access to organisations and sources of information.

We hope that medical and nursing staff, and others who deal with death in their professional lives, will find it a concise and readable reference work. Part 1 deals with historical background and current legal and medical practice. Part 2 gives a brief overview of current medico-legal issues surrounding dying and death, modern pal-

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