Suicide and the Therapeutic Coroner: Inquests, Governance and the Grieving Family
This study of English Coronial practice raises a number of questions about the role played by the Coroner within contemporary governance. Following observations at over 20 inquests into possible suicides and in-depth interviews with six Coroners, three preliminary issue emerged, all of which pointed to a broader and, in many ways, more significant issue. These preliminary issues are concerned with (1) the existence of considerable slippages between different Coroners over which deaths are likely to be classified as suicide; (2) the high standard of proof required and immense pressure faced by Coroners from family members at inquest to reach any verdict other than suicide, which significantly depresses likely suicide rates; and (3) Coroners feeling no professional obligation, either individually or collectively, to contribute to the production of consistent and useful social data regarding suicide, arguably rendering comparative suicide statistics relatively worthless. These concerns lead, ultimately, to the second more important question about the role expected of Coroners within social governance and within an effective, contemporary democracy. That is, are Coroners the principal officers in the public administration of death; or are they, first and foremost, a crucial part of the grieving process, one that provides important therapeutic interventions into the mental and emotional health of the community?
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