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Title: The provision of biochemical investigations in forensic toxicology for coroners
Author: Tormey, William Patrick
Awarding Body: Ulster University
Current Institution: Ulster University
Date of Award: 2012
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Death certification plays a central role in health service planning therefore identification of specific causes of death is critical. The requirements of biochemical toxicology as set out in the Coroners Acts in Ireland, Northern Ireland and England and Wales will be parsed to facilitate the construction of a modern best practice template for coroners' toxicology. The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) provides published standard guidelines for pathologists reporting to coroners. Their adequacy will be critically evaluated to facilitate reform with the intention of maximising the accuracy of death certification. The roles of psychological factors, tobacco smoking, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and cannabis in cardiac death will be detailed. The potential for adverse drug reactions to prescription medication to cause death by misadventure will be explored. The role for the expert witness in the inquisitorial coroners system to improve the accuracy of the causes of death and thus the verdict will be explored. My experience has shown that misinterpretation of presence of cannabis in autopsy blood and urine samples is common and this underlines the need for true expert guidance for the coroner. The current practice in biochemical toxicology of screening blood, urine and vitreous humor will be critically evaluated and the necessity for a wide ranging screen of potential toxins as a contributor to the cause of death examined. The appropriate analytes on the screening menu will be determined by local cultural factors. Gas and liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry are the methods of choice. The interpretation of isopropanol, ethanol and ketones in post-mortem blood will be considered as will t~e role of alcohol in death. The apparent population exposure to poisons as reported by Poisons Information Services will be used to explore the dichotomy between the usually benign outcome of common poisons and the often lethal consequences of poisoning by prescription and illicit drugs. The aim of this research is to use the template of the current legal requirements and routine laboratory procedures to suggest reforms which will improve the analytical protocol and reporting of biochemical toxicology in the coronial system resulting in greater accuracy in delineating the causes of death The narrative of this thesis travels through the areas of the coroners acts especially in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom where forensic biochemistry plays a role in the specification of the causes of deaths. There is a deconstruction of the place of doctors in the coronial system and in the new arrangements following the passage of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 in England and Wales and the potential for change in the Coroners Bill in the Republic of Ireland which fell with the dissolution of the Dail in20ll. There is an examination of the autopsy guidelines issued by the RCPath and suggestions for change which have been published. There is an analysis of the place of cannabinoids in coroners ' cases and publications setting out the position are included. A series of recommendations are made regarding improvement in practice for the reporting of biochemical toxicology in the coronial system. Two cases where there appears to be potential misinterpretation of the toxicological evidence, which may result in the review of the causes of death, are detailed as relevant clinical examples. Some laboratory pitfalls in relation to alcohol analysis have been demonstrated and the consequences of a protocol free service have been detailed with a prescription for improvement and practical solutions to improve outcomes. The under-estimation of the impact of tobacco toxicity is also addressed as is the potential for error due to lack of appreciation of drug-drug interactions. The role of biochemistry in the post-mortem diagnosis of alcoholic and diabetic ketoacidosis is discussed. Multidisciplinary reviews of biochemical toxicology for the coroners' court are suggested as the best safeguard of accurate interpretation to assist coronial enquiry. Conclusions suggesting standard operating procedures for post-mortem scenarios are detailed where possible.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (M.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available