Law change needed for Coroner to investigate still births

12 September 2011
Australia's leading medical negligence firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is calling on the Victorian Government to amend legislation to expand Coronial powers to investigate still births which occur every year in Victoria.

Medical Negligence Principal Kathryn Booth said the Coroner could not investigate still births as it is not considered a death within the meaning of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996.

"This law means a still birth is not considered a reportable death under the Coroners Act 2008," Ms Booth said.

"The birth of a baby should be a time of celebration, and when something goes horribly wrong, there should be an opportunity to ask why.

"Parents across Victoria want the tragic death of their child to be recorded and for the Coroner to conduct an inquiry to examine the cause of death.

"These investigations could lead to more information being publicly released on still born deaths, giving parents some closure but also informing the state's health services if improvements can be made.

"This is a highly emotive and contentious issue which needs an open and public dialogue given that there are more than 2000 still born babies in Australia every year.

"These deaths are higher than the national road toll and a greater understanding is needed to understand why these deaths occur."

Ms Booth said laws vary from state to state with New South Wales legislation allowing for a person to be charged with the killing of an unborn baby in a road accident but there's no such law in Victoria.

"Despite the mother feeling the baby kicking inside her for many months, the law doesn't recognise the baby as a human being until it has taken that first breath," she said.

"In Victoria, parents are issued with a birth certificate for their baby, but no death certificate.

"Parents want answers, and currently the Coroner's hands are tied. It's time for the Victorian Government to expand the Coroner's jurisdiction so they can have the discretion to investigate.

"There is a council in Victoria called the 'Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity' that will receive information of stillbirths and publishes annual reports relating to perinatal deaths.

"While this body does generate statistics of stillbirths in Victoria, it does not make findings about individual cases, so families are still left in the dark with no answers."

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