Academic journal article Health Law Review

Print Media Coverage on the Lana Dale Lewis Inquest Verdict: Exaggerated Claims or Accurate Reporting?

Academic journal article Health Law Review

Print Media Coverage on the Lana Dale Lewis Inquest Verdict: Exaggerated Claims or Accurate Reporting?

Article excerpt

Introduction

In a 1998 national study, forty-six percent of Canadians said they read daily newspapers as a major source of information. (2) Sixty-one percent of respondents also claimed that they would like to see more reporting on health issues. In the United States, fifty-eight percent of people surveyed said they have changed their behaviour due to a health-related story covered in the media. (3) Therefore, newspaper reports that examine health issues might affect the perceptions and behaviours of Canadians and Americans.

From 1999 to 2004, newspapers across Canada covered the coroner's inquest into the death of Lana Dale Lewis, who suffered a fatal stroke in Toronto, Ontario on September 12, 1996. The Lewis family, convinced that the stroke was caused by a chiropractic neck adjustment, requested an inquest into the death. The Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, the agency responsible for administering the inquest, states that the purpose of an inquest is to determine the circumstances of a death. The purpose of this article is to examine how the print media portrayed the verdict in the Lewis inquest. Although the majority of newspaper articles accurately describe the conclusions of the Lewis inquest, some articles focus on blaming the cause of death on the chiropractic adjustment. This article argues that inaccurate media reports on the verdict undermine the purpose of the Lewis inquest and others like it. The lack of clarity in these reports likely resulted from the vague definition of the purpose of inquests provided by the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario.

This article is divided into six main sections. Section 1 describes the nature of inquests in Ontario and compares this with other Canadian provinces and territories. Section 2 describes the Lewis inquest, including the reasons for calling the inquest and a description of the proceedings and findings. Section 3 explains how relevant newspaper articles about the inquest were identified. Sections 4 and 5 examine print media coverage on the verdict. Section 4 provides examples of accurate and complete coverage, whereas Section 5 provides examples of inaccurate coverage of the verdict. Section 6 discusses findings of the print media analysis. The article concludes with recommendations that may help coroners' offices improve their capacity to disseminate accurate information of an inquest verdict.

Section 1: Nature of Inquests in Ontario

The Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario (Coroner's Office), a division of the Ministry of Safety and Correctional Services, carries out inquests under authority of the provincial Coroners Act. (4) The Coroners Act defines the nature of inquests, including the purpose and conclusions of an inquest. An inquest is an investigation into the death of an individual in the community, which is open to the public. The purpose of an inquest is fourfold: first, to determine the identity of the deceased and how, when, where and by what means the deceased died. (5) Secondly, an inquest directs public attention to a death that could have been prevented. Thirdly, an inquest allows the concerned parties to respond to the inquest findings. Fourthly, an inquest should correct misinformation disseminated to the public about a death. Thus, the main focus of an inquest is to consider the circumstances of the death in question while informing the public about the death.

In Ontario, the Coroner's jury can offer only a one-or two-word response at the conclusion of the inquest. The jury must decide that the death in question is a result of an accident, natural causes, undetermined suicide or a homicide. Neither the Coroner's Office website (6) nor the Coroners Act (7) defines these terms explicitly. According to a Coroner's Office representative, an accident is "an incident or event that happens without foresight or expectation" Natural causes were defined as "death due to life course. …

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