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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Judge rules that post-mortem on suspicious death cannot be stopped for religious reasons

An Egyptian woman has raised religious objections in the High Court to an invasive post-mortem being carried out on her brother’s body after it was suggested he was murdered.

The body of anaesthetist Karim Aly was found in August in a locked room at Bridgend’s Princess of Wales Hospital, where he worked. A syringe and blood-smeared latex glove were uncovered nearby. South Wales Police said the cause of death is unexplained and it is investigating.

But the Egyptian press, and some members of the Egyptian Government, insisted that Dr Aly had been murdered. Dr Aly’s sister, Sarah, had also supported claims her brother was murdered but has now withdrawn that accusation, saying she was grief-stricken “in the heat of the moment”, the court was told.

But when coroner Peter Maddox ordered a post-mortem, there was a furious response from Dr Aly’s family in Egypt, who said “dissecting” his body would violate his and their beliefs and “strike at the heart of their religious identity”. Dr Sarah Aly challenged the decision at the High Court.

Dr Sarah Aly argued “cutting” the body would cause her family enormous distress and less intrusive toxicology tests, along with ground-breaking MRI scanning of his corpse, would be enough to dispel any suspicion that he was strangled. She wants his body repatriated intact to Egypt.

But the judge has ruled that the only way to find out the truth was to conduct an invasive post-mortem.

Sarah Aly’s barrister, Chris Williams, said an autopsy would breach the “fundamental tenets” of the family’s faith and amount to a violation of human rights to respect for family life and freedom of religion.

However, Can Yeginsu, for the Coroner, said suspicions raised by the Egyptian media and by Dr Sarah Aly meant a thorough investigation had to be carried out.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of theNational Secular Society, said: “Where there are no suspicious circumstances, we understand that Jewish and Muslim families are permitted to have relative’s bodies scanned as an alternative to a traditional post-mortem examination. It is not clear who foots the bill for this or whether the use of the MRI scanner for this purpose results in reduced availability for the benefit of the living.”

Published Fri, 30 Sep 2011