(7) Yet despite the emergence of medical-setting deaths as a separate and discrete category of reportable death, not all jurisdictions have followed suit, and those that have made amendments have opted for individualised definitions.
This article examines the current Australian law on the circumstances in which a medical-setting death is reportable to the coroner and the penalties that apply when a reportable death is not reported.
The categories of 'reportable death' in the Coroners Acts differ widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, especially when it comes to specific kinds of deaths including, for example, death by drowning, (22) death in the course of a police operation, (23) or the sudden death of a child under the age of one.
(43) Importantly, this avoids the need to rely on more general categories of reportable death (eg, 'violent' or 'unnatural' death).
(51) This anaesthetic category of reportable death can also lead to anomalous results; for example, in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, a death during a dental procedure where a local anaesthetic has been injected into the gum for a filling would be reportable, but not the in-hospital death of a heavily sedated patient undergoing an invasive procedure.
This category of reportable death, introduced by the Coroners Act 2009 (NSW), replaced the former provision which required the reporting of a death that occurred during, or as a result of, or within 24 hours of the administration of an anaesthetic administered in the course of a medical, surgical or dental or like operation or procedure.
To counter the challenge of a possible increase in the number of reportable deaths
and the expected burden to the investigative and medico-legal services, the law should provide in reported cases for the state forensic pathologist or inquest magistrate to have the discretion, in consultation with relevant medical specialist experts as required, to consider whether further medico-legal investigation is required.