Hire a pathologist, give closure to families

By The Editorial Board 24 January 2023, 6:00AM

Imagine being told on Christmas Day that a loved one will never come home again because she is lying in the mortuary.

This is what happened to the Segisolo family when police officer Mele Segisolo was allegedly shot by the man she was dating. The family has been in pain since then and there is no closure to be offered as her body is one of the nine that lies in mortuary awaiting an autopsy.

These are the bodies of all who died during the festive period under suspicious circumstances.

This medical procedure cannot be undertaken in Samoa as there is no resident pathologist to do the autopsy. This is a serious concern as the repercussion of this stretches just beyond getting autopsies done.

Pathology provides a wealth of information through the autopsy, or postmortem examination. Manner of death as well as mechanism of death can be deduced, and there is also an opportunity to collect trace evidence.

In recent years forensic pathology has become more and more important because the judicial and the courts systems are relying more and more on the evidence and the conclusions forensic pathologists come up with in murder or suicide cases.

The first question that comes to mind is how the charges are laid on suspects without the medical authority confirming the cause of death. The legal opinion on this varies but in most jurisdictions around the world, charges are not laid without expert opinion on the cause of death.

There is also this notion that because a pathologist is not present, the expert evidence is then collected at a later date. This means that the matter cannot proceed to trial at a faster pace than it should.

This becomes a notion that justice is being delayed. Justice delayed is justice denied is a legal maxim that means that justice is not effective if it is not delivered promptly. This phrase is often used to describe the situation where someone is accused of a crime, but is not given a trial or is given a trial but is not found guilty until a long time after the crime was committed.

This can be unfair to the person who is accused because they may have to wait for a long time to find out if they are going to be punished or not.

The family members of those allegedly murdered or who have died under suspicious circumstances are also put under a lot of stress as they are unable to bury their loved ones and receive closure.

Under Samoa’s law, the onus lies on the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice to appoint a coroner. This issue is not new to Samoa and because it is not should not be a reason to allow things to carry on the way they are going.

The short term solution is to advertise the positions and get an expatriate to come in and handle the position. This should allow the authorities ample time to train locals as pathologists.

The Government can help in this by offering scholarships for this particular course. We should be able to send students abroad if the studies related to this are not offered locally. At the end of the day, Samoa needs someone on board as soon as possible.

Our neighbours from Fiji have been helping us but for how long? And how long do families have to wait for until they can bury their loved ones?

Forensic pathologists play a vital role in the justice system in matters concerning questions of death. Forensic pathology has been considered a specialty in medicine. Although often not recognised, forensic pathology is a growing specialty.

Recent decades have brought a plethora of technological advances, popularised criminal cases, and even mainstream media programs that has pushed this specialty into the eyes of the public, boosting this profession's esteem.

The role of a forensics pathologist in today’s society has become one of great importance. These pathologists provide huge contributions to court cases, grieving families, and the universe, in general.

They should be able to do the same for Samoa but alas we do not have one.

By The Editorial Board 24 January 2023, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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