Coroner attacks moves to ‘hide’ suicide

A coroner, outspoken in his crusade for more openness about suicide, yesterday voiced his opposition to Government plans to introduce a shorter version of a death certificate which would not disclose the cause of death.

Coroner attacks moves to ‘hide’ suicide

Tánaiste Joan Burton confirmed regulations are being drafted where a short death cert will leave blank the manner in which a person died. She said the move will help to ease the upset to some families.

But coroner Terence Casey believes suicide should not be “hidden”. He said the regulations would be “totally and absolutely” the reverse of what he has been doing in his role.

Mr Casey said a proposed change “is going to defeat the whole purpose of what I’ve been trying to do over the last three to four years”.

Killarney solicitor Mr Casey, coroner for east and south Kerry, said suicide is something that should be talked about more openly. He believes such an approach would help reduce the number of suicides.

Significantly, the number of deaths by suicide in east and south Kerry fell dramatically since the coroner started highlighting the issue — four deaths to date in 2014 compared to 18 or 19 suicides annually in recent years.

“I believe it’s better for people themselves to talk about it because they will then be more inclined to seek help and go to organisations that can help them,” he said.

Ms Burton, meanwhile, said she was very much aware of the distress caused to families and the impact of having the cause of death on a certificate.

As a result, she said, drafting of the regulations to allow for the omission of the cause of death from a death certificate was at an advanced stage.

“I hope that this will provide some comfort to families where the details of the cause of death registered are upsetting,” Ms Burton said. “I will shortly introduce, by regulation, a short-form death certificate that will omit the cause of death.”

The minister was responding to a parliamentary question from People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who specifically called on her to address the hurt caused to families who have lost someone to suicide.

The National Suicide Research Foundation, meanwhile, yesterday said it was not aware of calls to introduce a shorter version of the death certificate.

“While the foundation is acutely aware of the grief of families, which in all cases of suicide is a complicated grief, it does not see advantages to the introduction of a short death certificate,” a spokesperson said.

At present, under the 2004 Civil Registration Act, a coroner or doctor provides the required particulars of a death, including cause of death, in order that it can be formally registered.

There are approximately 400 deaths from suicide each year in Ireland.

In such cases, death certs are released once the cause of death is formally determined, normally by way of an inquest before a coroner.

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