Many things overlooked in post-mortem on cadet, pathologist tells court

IPOH: The post-mortem examination on the late cadet officer J. Soosaimanicckam should have been conducted by a trained forensic pathologist and not just any doctor, the Coroner's Court here heard.

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland & University College Dublin Malaysia Campus (RUMC) Associate Professor Datuk Seri Dr Bhupinder Singh, said in cases involving deaths at government training facilities, it would have been more appropriate for an expert pathologist to carry out the post-mortem examination.

Dr Bhupinder, 71, a forensic pathologist with 26 years' experience and retired head of the Penang Hospital forensic department, said many things had been overlooked.

"The cause of death, stated as pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs), is just a finding. It would have been better to investigate what led to it," he told Sessions Court judge Ainul Shahrin Mohamad, the coroner at the inquest, on Thursday (March 30).

The inquest seeks to find out the cause of Soosaimanicckam's death during training at the naval base on May 19, 2018, a week after reporting for duty on May 12.

Mahajoth Singh and Zaid Abd Malek of Lawyers for Liberty are representing Soosaimanicckam's family, while Evangelin Simon Silvaraj is acting for the government.

Lawyer Cheang Lek Choy is holding a watching brief for the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

In court, Evangelin said the medical officer had given oral testimony that a bacterial infection had caused a build-up of fluid in Soosaimanicckam's lungs, leading to respiratory failure and eventually death.

Dr Bhupinder said the doctor should have included that piece of information in the post-mortem report and further examined the source of the bacterial infection.

On findings that the deceased had suffered from a heat stroke, Dr Bhupinder said he did not agree with that as it was not stated in any medical report that the deceased's temperature was taken during resuscitation attempts.

He said from the available history that the deceased had difficulty breathing, muscle aches and renal (kidney) failure, this suggested that he probably suffered from leptospirosis.

"However, if he had been referred to a medical institution and treated earlier, he would have recovered.

"Those suffering from leptospirosis will normally have flu-like symptoms which worsen in four to five days.

"With proper treatment, more than 90% of patients recover.

"In this case he would have had massive renal failure with pulmonary (lung) haemorrhage, leading to respiratory failure," he added.

Mahajoth then asked if the post-mortem findings would have been different if conducted on the day of the death instead of the following day, to which Dr Bhupinder replied "no".

Asked if it was right for the doctor to do the post-mortem the next day after being told by the investigating officer that there was no foul play involved, Dr Bhupinder said: "Doctors do not take advice from investigating officers but look at cases holistically to prove if the death occurred due to criminal elements or due to natural causes.

"Bruises on the body will remain whether the post-mortem was conducted the same day or the next.

"What was more important in this case was for more blood and urine samples to be taken," he said.

The hearing continues on April 19.

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