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Autopsy practice in Ghana – reflections of a pathologist

JT Anim


Autopsy practice in Ghana can be said to be far from satisfactory. Most Ghanaians do not know that there are different categories of death, which categories of death require an autopsy and who is required to perform the autopsy. The problems have further been complicated by the fact that, unlike other countries where separate facilities are available for storage of the different categories of dead bodies, all dead bodies in Ghana are conveyed to the hospital mortuary, thus encouraging hospitals to expand body storage facilities in their mortuaries to meet the increasing demand. Public or community mortuaries used elsewhere for storage of bodies of deaths occurring in the community pending the Coroner’s directions are non-existent in Ghana. Storage of all categories of dead bodies in hospital mortuaries has resulted in virtually all autopsies being done by the hospital pathologists, especially in the large centres, at the expense of other very important diagnostic functions of the pathologist. This paper explains relevant portions of the Coroner’s Act of 1960 and emphasises the need to separate the few hospital autopsies that require the expertise of the pathologist from Coroner’s autopsies that may be carried out by any registered medical officer, as specified in the Act, or better still, by specially trained Forensic Physicians/Medical Examiners, as pertains in other countries. The paper also clarifies the different categories of death, those that fall in the jurisdiction of the Coroner and the personnel required to assist the Coroner in his investigastions. Suggestions have also been made on how to approach manpower development to ensure that appropriate personnel are trained to assist the Coroner in the investgation of medico-legal cases.

Key words: Coroner, autopsy, public mortuary, pathologist, forensic