Doctors to get more powers to ask for unexplained death autopsies


Doctors called to determine the cause of death when someone has died will soon be able to bring in experts from the national forensics institute NFI as part of a four-year experiment.

The aim is to give doctors more tools to determine how someone died if they have doubts and could lead to more murders being identified, experts say.

The doctors will need to have the permission of next of kin to refer a dead body for autopsy if they doubt, for example, whether someone died of a heart attack or was pushed down the stairs.

Doctors will also be able to turn to experts at two hospitals for radiology and genetic research.

NFI forensic pathologist Bart Latten told broadcaster RTL Nieuws the new rules will  provide more comfort to relatives.

‘The family wants to know the cause of death in particular when a young person dies,’ he said. ‘Was it an overdose of drugs, for example, or was a genetic disease involved? These are things we can now investigate.’

The information will also be useful for medical research and Dutch death statistics. ‘People are regularly critical about the quality of cause of death research in the Netherlands. This project will allow us to find out if this is justified,’ he said.

The research carried out by a forensic doctor can also be crucial in a police investigation.


Some 7,500 people a year die in the Netherlands due to something other than illness. Post mortems can only be ordered by the public prosecution department if officials suspect the death is suspicious. This happens some 250 times a year.

Doctors can miss things when they only examine a body from the outside,’ Latten said. ‘Sometimes a doctor makes findings which are not decisive in deciding if there was a crime… on top that, the cause of death may be unclear in an unexpected death.

‘We need additional research to determine the cause of death or rule out a crime,’ he said.

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