Central Govt passes order allowing autopsies to be conducted after sunset; why now, what it means
Autopsies were not allowed at night due to a British-era law that barred practitioners from performing an autopsy in the absence of sunlight due to practical reasons arising from lack of proper lighting.
Did you know that a post-mortem examination could only be conducted in the morning light in India? At least that was the case till yesterday when the Central Government passed an order allowing autopsies to be done after sunset.
Why was autopsy not allowed in the night-time?
This was due to a British-era law that barred practitioners from performing an autopsy in the absence of sunlight due to practical reasons arising from lack of proper lighting.
According to reports, post mortem examination was done in the daytime because artificial light from bulbs, CFLs or tube lights made it difficult to observe the colour of bruises, wounds and contusions in Indian skin tones. Noting the precise colour of these wounds is crucial for experts to deduce the time and cause of these injuries, which is often important evidence in case of unnatural deaths.
Also, an eight-member committee constituted in Tamil Nadu in 2010 had found that conducting autopsies in the night-time, increased the probability of misidentification of bodies by the relatives [Autopsies are conducted after relatives of the deceased identify the body and give a go-ahead, barring police cases and cases of unidentified bodies, wherein officers of the law can also order a post-mortem].
The committee also said that forensic experts faced problems examining subtler details in the absence of daylight and collecting evidence.
“Under artificial light, the colour of the skin, in cases of dark or medium complexioned individuals, would mask the colour of the bruise and may escape detection even by the trained eye despite careful examination,” read a report submitted by the Director of Medical Education to the Health Secretary on 28 August, 2010.
In fact, the Madras High Court had taken the findings of the committee into account as late as in 2019 to dismiss a petition demanding autopsies of accident victims be allowed after sunset.
So why did the government allow it now?
The Union government received multiple representations by various groups including relatives of the deceased who faced much anxiety in case of unexplained deaths to allow the examination even at night time.
The government sent these recommendations for examination to a technical committee in the Directorate General of Health Services, Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. It found that scientific discoveries have come a long way since the law was formed and some institutes, which had relevant infrastructure available, were already performing night-time post-mortems.
The government also observed that allowing night-time autopsy will also promote organ donation and transplant as organs can be harvested in the stipulated time window after the procedure is done.
Referring to the development, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya in a tweet in Hindi said, "An end to the system put in place by the British! Post-mortem can be conducted round-the-clock. In furtherance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's idea of good governance, the health ministry has decided that post-mortem can be conducted even after sunset in hospitals which have the facility to carry out the procedure at night."
"In response to the multiple references received by the Union Health Ministry from various sources and in line with the government's commitment to promote ease of living by reducing burden imposed due to compliance to government processes, changes have been made in the post-mortem protocols to allow for the procedure to be conducted after sunset effective from today," the health ministry said.
In view of the rapid advancement and improvement in technology, especially availability of required lighting and infrastructure required for post-mortem, performing night time post-mortem in hospitals is now feasible, the ministry said.
But there's a rider!
This is not a blanket order, rather it comes with certain conditions. It is only allowed in hospitals with adequate lighting and infrastructure. Furthermore, cases of homicide, suicide, rape, decomposed bodies and suspected foul play are all exceptions to this rule unless there is a law and order situation that demands early resolution of cause of death.
The health ministry further said the fitness and adequacy of infrastructure, among others, shall be assessed by the hospital-in-charge to ensure that there is no dilution of evidentiary value.
It is also to be ensured by the facility that video recording of post-mortem shall be done for all post-mortem conducted in the night, to rule out any suspicion and preserved for future reference for legal purposes, it underlined.
With inputs from PTI
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