Doctors cringe over Coroner’s Bill

BY VENERANDA LANGA

Members of the Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZiMA) yesterday asked Parliament to revise the Coroner’s Office Bill as it has some clauses that could impose punitive measures on doctors in the event that a patient dies in their care.

The issue came out during a public hearing at Parliament Building by the Misheck Mataranyika-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice on the Coroner’s Office Bill.

If crafted, the Bill provides for establishment of the Coroner’s Office, responsible for investigating all deaths that come about as a result of unnatural causes.

It also seeks to create an independent and fully-fledged office to effectively and impartially investigate unnatural deaths.

Sylvester Nyatsuro, a ZiMA member, said there was need for the legislation to protect the medical profession from any undue prosecution should a patient die in their hands.

“As a profession we deal with death, some patients recover, but on a significant proportion, some may die, and when a Bill like this comes before Parliament, we need to ensure that we protect the medical profession,” Nyatsuro said.

“For example, in the United Kingdom, I actually participated in a number of coroners’ inquests. I was a general practitioner and one of my roles was that if a patient died, I needed to explain to the coroner and then he would take over and investigate. The coroner’s interests are that he wants to know the causes of death.

“The lessons learnt are that if we introduce this Bill with punitive measures, it will be difficult for medical practitioners to practice. We should allow the coroner to gather information and make recommendations because most of us are in the medical field to help patients.”

Another ZiMA member, Christopher Samukange, suggested changes to different clauses in the Coroner’s Bill.

For instance, Samukange said Clause 5 of the Bill, which says that the coroner and the deputy coroner must be appointed by the President, must be changed.

“I would like to suggest that we delete ‘appointed by the President’, and, instead, say that the coroner and deputy coroner will be appointed in the same manner that judges go through public interviews so that the appointments are transparent,” he said.

On qualifications of the coroner, he said for example, in the UK most coroners were medically qualified.

The Bill stipulates that for one to be appointed Coroner-General, they must hold a qualification in forensic medicine, forensic pathology, forensic science or any other relevant qualifications.

Samukange also said that Clause 6 must clearly outline whether the fiscus will create a fund to fund the coroner’s office.

He said the Bill must not give the Home Affairs minister the power to stop an inquest on deaths — whether at hospitals, prisons, and other places.

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