The French medical Professional Secrets Act of 1960 prohibits physicians from giving any information about the cause of death to anyone except another physician. Medical authorities generally provide only a statement that death occurred due to natural causes. Most of the time no specific cause of death is provided, except if an autopsy was performed.
In cases where cause of death was not “natural,” e.g., accidents, murder, suicide, or suspicious circumstances, an autopsy may be required. Autopsies are usually ordered by the French judiciary (the “procureur”) when the circumstances surrounding a death are unclear. Regrettably, even objections from the family or the Embassy will not prevent an autopsy from being conducted. Lengthy delays are encountered in obtaining the coroner’s report; this timeconsuming process often delays the preparation of the Report of Death.
If the next of kin wishes to request that an autopsy be performed in a case when one has not been ordered by the authorities, a written request must be made to the Procureur de la Republique for the locality where the death occurred. The Embassy can initiate this request or forward one on behalf of the next of kin.
French officials normally release only the conclusions of the autopsy report to the Embassy to facilitate preparation of the Report of Death. Families who wish to obtain a copy of the full report must send a written request (preferably through their physician) to the appropriate court. If the case is under judicial investigation, French authorities will release autopsy and police reports only at the request of the family’s French legal representative. Generally, this action will not be carried out until the inquest is complete. Families should be advised that the report they receive will be in French. The Embassy cannot provide translation services. A list of court approved translators can be provided upon request.
Autopsy reports in France are usually delivered within three months, toxicological studies between three and six months, and pathology reports between six to nine months.
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