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Irish coroner fears new death certificates 'hide' suicide

Irish Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) and Minister for Social Protect, Joan Burton Image copyright PA
Image caption The optional, short-form death certificates are being introduced by Irish Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) Joan Burton, in a bid to ease the distress of families bereaved by suicide, drugs or violence

A coroner has criticised plans for a new type of death certificate in the Republic of Ireland, expressing fears that it could help to "hide" suicides.

The Irish government is introducing a short-form death certificate that will not include the cause of death.

They will not replace long certificates but are an additional option for deaths by suicide, drug abuse or violence.

However, coroner Terence Casey said the move could do "more damage than good" to suicide prevention campaigns.

Greater openness

He said he feared that the omission of suicide from some death certificates would help to sweep the issue "under the carpet".

Mr Casey is the coroner for the south east area of County Kerry and has regularly spoken out about the need for greater openness and discussion about suicide.

He said made a conscious effort to talk about the issue about four years ago, because he was having to officiate at an increasing number of suicide inquests.

In such cases, a verdict of suicide is recorded on the existing long-form death certificates, as well as the physical cause of death, according to the coroner.

'Tragic circumstances'

The new, short-form death certificates are being introduced shortly by the Irish Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) and Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton.

Answering a recent parliamentary question, Ms Burton said: "I am very much aware that where a death occurs in tragic circumstances that the cause of death registered on the death certificate can cause distress to loved ones.

"In this regard, I will shortly introduce, by regulation, a short form death certificate that will omit the cause of death."

However, Mr Casey told the Irish Examiner newspaper that the proposed change to death certificates was "going to defeat the whole purpose of what I've been trying to do over the last three to four years".

The coroner said suicide was still very much a taboo subject and he wanted to help to remove the stigma felt by those affected by bringing the issue out into the open.

'Distress'

He has highlighted the problem from the court bench on several occasions and said more suicidal people would seek help if the families affected were more open to discussing the issue.

Mr Casey said he believed his approach was working as the number of cases coming before him had reduced.

He said that over the past decade his jurisdiction has regularly recorded up to 20 suicides a year, whereas this year there have been four cases to date.

In an updated statement on Wednesday, Ms Burton said her intention was to assist grieving families, adding that the new, optional documents would not affect existing death registration rules.

"This is to address the ongoing concerns from members of the public and public representatives that, where the death certificate must be presented at schools, for example, the cause of death can cause distress to loved ones in cases involving suicide, violent death and death from substance abuse.

"Making provision for the issuing of a certified extract does not in any way affect the matters recorded in the Register of Deaths, including cause of death, or impact in any way on the compilation, extraction and publication of vital statistics," she added.

But Mr Casey said the families of the deceased were already aware of how their loved-ones died, and the removal of suicide or drug abuse from official documents was a step in the wrong direction.

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