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Devoutly religious Tasmanian woman fails in bid to stop autopsy of her mother

A devoutly religious woman has failed to stop an autopsy of her mother’s body, which was found earlier this week in a southern Tasmanian river.

The body of Stella Joan Fraser, 72, was found on June 8 in the River Ouse in the Derwent Valley.

She had been reported missing to the police the day before.

Her daughter, Keturah Matepi Triffitt, filed a petition with the High Court of Tasmania in Hobart to stop an autopsy of her mother’s body on religious grounds.

“I’ll just leave this in God hands. Everyone knows what I felt in my heart,” she said.

Under Tasmania’s Coroners Act, 1995, if the coroner decides that an autopsy is necessary, the senior next of kin can file a petition with the Supreme Court not to perform the autopsy.

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Ms. Triffitt told the Supreme Court that she and her mother were both devout Christians and believed in the sanctity of the human body, and should not be interfered with after death.

“She always said she didn’t agree with autopsies,” Ms. Triffitt said.

Missed church service is worrying

Mrs Fraser was last seen dining at the Lachlan Hotel in Ouse, four days before her body was found.

She has lived alone in the city since 2017.

Her daughter told the court she thought her mother had fallen while walking home and ended up in the reeds of the river, unable to get out.

Mrs. Triffitt said her mother would come on Saturday, the day after she was last seen, but her mother was not home when Mrs. Triffitt’s husband went to collect her.

She also didn’t go to church on Sundays and missed her usual routine.

On Monday evening, the family reported her missing.

state forensic [athologist Doctor Donald Ritchie told the court that while he thought Mrs Triffitt’s belief about how her mother died was likely the case, it was important to rule out foul play.

He said the autopsy was necessary to determine what had occurred, and more specifically what didn’t.

“(It’s) important for the State to know what happened to your mother because she was vulnerable and (because of) her dementia,” he said.

Before the decision was handed down, Mrs Triffitt told the court: “If it’s God’s desire that will happen, I trust the Lord with it … I do pray things go the right way,” she said.

Autopsy deemed necessary

In the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Alan Blow said he had weighed up deeply held religious beliefs with a number of arguments advanced by the State’s crown counsel.

Tasmania's Chief Justice Alan Blow in wig
Tasmania’s Chief Justice Alan Blow said Mrs Fraser was elderly, vulnerable and in a public place.(

ABC

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“Mrs Triffitt believes the body is precious to God and should not be cut up … [her] mother never had surgery,” he said.

“Like her mother, [she] believes that after death, God will make her mother’s body whole or perfect again.

“On the other hand [the] The state maintains that there is a possibility of foul play in this case and an autopsy is reasonably necessary to see if foul play can be ruled out,” he said.

Chief Justice Blow said that while foul play was highly unlikely, Mrs. Fraser was elderly, frail and in a public place.

He said failing to perform an autopsy could put an offender at risk of committing another offense.

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