Jewish leaders have asked councillors to help make CT scans “more financially accessible” after it emerged that Orthodox burial societies were paying up to £90,000 a year for them.
The “policy ask” was included in the Board of Deputies’ recently published Jewish Manifesto for Local Government, and comes on the back of a furore about the practices of Senior Inner London Coroner Mary Hassell.
Jewish tradition dictates that the body of the deceased should be buried without any undue interference, so interest in scans has been high, as they can avoid the need for invasive autopsies when a death certificate cannot be issued.
Computerised Tomography (CT) scans cost up to £1,100 and can be requested by family members of the deceased. If the deceased was a member of one of the four Orthodox burial societies – United Synagogue, Federation of Synagogues, S&P Community and Adath Yisroel – then the society pays.
The Board’s Manifesto, aimed at existing and would-be councillors, explains that “while minimally invasive autopsy has been adopted by many coroners, it is still far from universal practice,” adding: “As it involves expense, the Jewish community may consider how it might contribute to meeting the cost.”
It then asks councillors and candidates to “support the drive to make minimal invasive autopsies more financially and physically accessible for bereaved families”.
Rabbi Sydney Sinitsky of Adath said: “There were about 80-85 CT scans on deceased Jewish community members last year. About 65 were in London, the rest in places like Manchester, Leeds and Gateshead.”
He added: “If you think that there are about 2,000 Jewish deaths per year, then this number of those having scans is roughly 5 percent, which is roughly equivalent to the number of cases nationally where there is a post-mortem.”
Sinitsky said burial societies catering for Reform and Liberal Jews, such as the Joint Jewish Burial Society (JJBS), do not pay for CT scans and instead advise family members to pay. A spokeswoman for JJBS said Orthodox burial societies “charge their members a lot more”.
A spokesman for United Synagogue said the organisation covered the cost for those belonging to its Funeral Expense Scheme (FES), and paid for 32 CT scans last year.
“CT scans are the least invasive alternative to autopsies, so we are naturally from a Jewish perspective able to facilitate the whole costs of such via the FES to make the process as smooth as possible,” he said.
“When possible, the United Synagogue would always advocate for CT scans to be used instead of autopsies.”
Levi Schapiro, director of Stamford Hill umbrella organisation Jewish Community Council, said: “The Jewish community has already offered to pay for the scans, as it’s something we wholeheartedly support.”