BY PRAISEMORE SITHOLE
DOCTORS yesterday said the proposed Coroner’s Office Bill violates their independence of conducting post-mortems without duress.
Speaking at the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs consultative meeting on Coroner’s Bill and Constitutional Court Bill in Bulawayo yesterday, the health practitioners said the new Coroner’s Bill implies that the minister gives directives to the Coroner-General.
They said this would force them to write false reports under duress from their superiors.
The new Bill provides for the establishment of an office responsible for investigating all deaths that come as a result of unnatural causes.
It also sets out the appointment, functions and powers of the Coroner-General (CG), Deputy Coroner-General and coroners in relation to post-mortems, inquests and their findings.
Doctor Francis Chiora said the proposed Bill gave too much power to the Justice minister and curtailed the CG’s independence.
“I would be happy if you, the parliamentarians, had the overall control of the body,” Chiora said.
“The minister may give to the Coroner-General such general directions relating to the policy. The office is to observe in the exercise of its functions as the minister considers to be necessary in the national interest,” the Bill in section 17(1) reads.
Chiora said: “Our biggest worry also touches on the issue of doctors being prosecuted after the death of someone who was being operated. When operating, some of the cases we take chances for the operation to be a success, but when I know that I will be prosecuted after a failure of an operation … how can I operate with an axe over my head? We will not be able to give maximum effort for fear of being prosecuted.”
He said parliamentarians should appoint the CG, who is not affiliated to any political party.
The doctors argued that the CG’s Office must also probe deaths linked to the minister.
Doctors also opposed section 7, which states that they should be answerable for the preservation of medical records.
“We put our entries in the notes and they move from one office to another and if the person is discharged, they go to the records officers. So I think it’s expecting too much from doctors. This can only be applicable in the prisons, police stations and maybe the private sector,” Chiora said.
The doctors also argued that the CG should not have the power to appoint any medical officer to do a post-mortem.
“This is not acceptable because the law does not force me to do a post-mortem. There is no reason at all to be told to do a post-mortem,” Chiora said.
Some residents argued that too many controls would lead to brain drain of the few remaining doctors, while others said it was necessary for government to control doctors because they were sometimes negligent.