Journal Article

Bodies-in-Life/Bodies-in-Death: Social Work, Coronial Autopsies and the Bonds of Identity

John Drayton

in The British Journal of Social Work

Volume 43, issue 2, pages 264-281
Published in print March 2013 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online February 2013 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Bodies-in-Life/Bodies-in-Death: Social Work, Coronial Autopsies and the Bonds of Identity

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This paper addresses an aspect of bereavement which has received scant attention: the various meanings of the dead body for the bereaved person and the practical implications of these for social workers in the field of grief and loss. The discussion is embedded within a consideration of the role of social work in the field. The practice context is discussed and the literature of attachment in bereavement and conceptualisations of the dead body briefly reviewed. The core of the paper derives from a series of interviews with relatives of people whose bodies underwent autopsy-based coronial investigations involving the retention of whole organs in Queensland, Australia. A number of emergent themes are identified regarding the resonance of identity and the ways it is contained, asserted and incorporated into the life and grief of the bereaved. Conflicts and concurrences between the perspectives of interviewees and dominant medico-legal perspectives are also considered. The paper concludes by discussing the role of social work in bringing the perspectives of the bereaved person to the fore. It suggests the profession, by virtue of its familiarity with the Ambiguous and Contradictory, is well placed to develop practical understandings of death and bereavement and to enhance the various governmental systems in which they are enacted.

Keywords: Autopsy; bereavement; body; sudden death; grief; social work

Journal Article.  6786 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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