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Re St Mary, Sledmere

York Consistory Court: Collier Ch, January 2007 Exhumation – scientific research – public benefit

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 August 2007

Justin Gau
Barrister, Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Lincoln
Ruth Arlow
Barrister, Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Chichester
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Case Notes
Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 2007

The deceased had died in 1919 in the second wave of the Spanish ’flu pandemic and was buried in a lead-lined coffin. The petitioner, a leading influenza virologist, sought leave to exhume the remains of the deceased to obtain a tissue sample for the purposes of scientific research into the avian influenza virus. The family of the deceased consented to such exhumation. Tissue samples obtained from other sources had proved to be of inadequate quality for research purposes. The chancellor considered and applied the guidelines in Re Holy Trinity, Bosham [2004] Fam 125, per Hill Ch; and the decision of the Court of Arches in Re St Nicholas, Sevenoaks [2005] 1 WLR 1011. In granting the faculty, he considered the speculative nature of the proposal and applied the principles of proportionality, concluding that the greater the public benefit that might ensue from the proposal, the less weighty the ground required to tip the balance in favour of exhumation. [RA]