Monday, 29 September 2008

Controversy Over Coroner Law

The planned implementation of the coroner law by the Lagos State government may pitch it against medical doctors and muslims

By Jones Ojieh

Chief Samson Adekoya who was arrested and detained by the police in Lagos on February 6th this year, was few days later declared dead by the police. His death elicited reactions from members of the public. Adekoya's family, who suspected foul play quickly petitioned some government agencies calling for a full investigation into his death. In response, the matter was referred to a coroner for inquest. The coroner court, which heard the case, ordered that the body of the deceased be deposited with the chief medical examiner at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, for a post-mortem examination, while some police officers identified by the inspector general of police when testifying before the court, have been ordered to appear before it.
While Adekoya's family may feel satisfied that the questionable death of its relation is receiving government attention, other Lagosians are not comfortable with the introduction of coroner law in the state. Some religious and professional bodies have kicked against the law and accused the government of inadequate consultations before the law was passed.
The law, which was introduced by the immediate former administration in Lagos State and passed into law by the state house of assembly, seeks to find solutions to unresolved murder cases in the state, particularly killings that are linked with the security agencies.
According to the law, anybody who dies in Lagos State under a controversial circumstances, either by accident or upon a medial intervention shall not be buried until a post mortem examination is carried out on such a person to ascertain the cause of his or her death before a death certificate can be issued. Also, the law further states that any medical practitioner that issues death certificate without clearance from the state coroner shall be liable and sentenced to five years imprisonment.
The present government in the state has indicated its intention to implement the law. This has elicited the reaction of some people, notably medical doctors and muslims. While Muslims argue that the law has no regard for their belief, medical doctors say government did not take professional conduct into consideration in framing the law.
A medical practitioner, who prefers anonymity said government failed to carry stakeholders along in the passage of the law, adding, “not that those agitating against the law do not like it, but because they were not properly briefed or carried along before the passage of the law. As a professional, I can tell you that there is nothing intrinsically new with the contents of the coroner law, after all, there is an existing federal law to that effect.” He said in Saudi Arabia, post mortem examinations are carried out on dead bodies and death certificates issued on daily basis because they have facilities to perform but criticized what he described a “blind approach” to such a sensitive issue by the state attorney general and commissioner of health, whom he accused of taking Lagosians for granted.
“They know that apart from the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital LASUTH, only few hospitals can carry out post-mortem checks in a state estimated to have over 15 million people,” he further noted.
In addition, the law is regarded as another avenue of revenue generation for the state government. They alleged that the state government has concluded plans to contract the mortuary service departments of LASUTH and few other general hospitals to private firms.
“You can see why there was massive public outcry against the coroner law and why the state government has to send the law back to house of assembly for a retouch,” said a senior civil servant who prefers anonymity.
The law has however, been sent to the state house of assembly for review, but Shupo Shashore, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos State was quoted as saying that the government would not succumb to undue pressure to jettison its implementation. Speaker of the House, Adeyemi Ikuforji, while assuring that the house would accommodate some criticisms, said some fundamental aspects of it may not be touched.

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