Accessing materials and data
External researchers can apply to access coronial and non-coronial biological materials and data held by Forensic and Scientific Services.
Biological materials (non-coronial)
You will need to complete a material transfer agreement (MTA) and agree to the terms and conditions of the MTA.
We will need to know how you intend to use these materials. Examples of use may include:
- research (publications)
- commercial development
- public health study
- process improvement (such as method development)
- quality activities (quality control, audit).
Please email FSS-MTA-Coordinator@health.qld.gov.au to obtain a material transfer agreement form.
Research involving coronial material raises distinct legal and ethical issues arising from the provisions of the Coroners Act 2003 and the unique vulnerabilities of the subjects and their next of kin.
Applications for research that involve any coronial material (including when primarily 'clinical' in nature) and Queensland Health staff or facilities, should be referred to the Forensic and Scientific Services Human Ethics Committee (FSS-HEC), which has established arrangements with the State Coroner, developed expertise in the field, and which includes representatives from the Coroner’s Court.
The following information is provided to support requests for access to coronial material:
Advice to researchers and ethics committees
Applications for research that involve any coronial material (including when primarily 'clinical' in nature) should be referred to the Forensic and Scientific Services Human Ethics Committee (FSS-HEC), which has established arrangements with the State Coroner, developed expertise in the field, and includes membership representing the Coroner's Court. The FSS-HEC meets National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) requirements.
This guideline applies primarily to coronial research proposals at Forensic and Scientific Services (FSS) and/or to be conducted within Queensland Health facilities. The State Coroner may at his/her discretion choose to refer research proposals to the FSS-HEC that do not involve Queensland Health.
In this context, 'coronial material' includes everything derived from or related to coronial autopsies and investigations (e.g. tissue, microscope slides, wax blocks, blood samples, photographs, medical imaging, autopsy reports, and other documents). This material remains under the State Coroner's control, even when it is held by pathologists, scientists and others employed by Queensland Health, and regardless of whether data is accessible in clinical or forensic AUSLAB.
Section 53 of the Coroners Act 2003 governs access to coronial 'investigation documents', and requires those involved to be approved as 'genuine researchers'. As all research on coronial material involves access to investigation documents and/or information derived from them, the FSS-HEC considers that approval as a genuine researcher will almost always be required.
Researchers occasionally seek access to deceased people or their families, or may request the retention of additional autopsy samples. Such proposals raise sensitive ethical and legal issues and may require consent from next of kin under the Transplantation and Anatomy Act 1979.
Review of applications by the FSS-HEC and approval as a genuine researcher ensure that the State Coroner approves of proposed research. The special requirements mentioned may cause approval of coronial research to take longer than conventional applications.
The Chief Forensic Pathologist has a special interest in managing research on coronial material, which therefore requires his/her approval if involving FSS or Queensland Health mortuaries.
Checklist for research on coronial material
- Authorisation from the State Coroner.
- Approval as a 'genuine researcher'.
- Review and approval by the FSS-HEC.
- Approval by the Chief Forensic Pathologist.
- Approval for access to forensic AUSLAB (if applicable).
- Consent under the Transplantation and Anatomy Act (if applicable).
FSS Human Ethics Committee
Chair: Kate Angus
Secretariat: Helene Jacmon
Applying 'distributive justice' in research using coronial materials
The Forensic and Scientific Services Human Ethics Committee (FSS-HEC) is constituted in accordance with the NHMRC National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007 (2018 update).
Paragraphs 1.4 (c-e) of the Statement require that 'there is no unfair burden of participation in research on particular groups, there is fair distribution of the benefits of research and there is no exploitation of participants in the conduct of research'.
This requirement relates to 'distributive justice', which in this context can be viewed as the ethical obligation to distribute the burden and benefits of research as equitably as possible between different groups of potential subjects. For autopsy subjects, 'burden' refers to the impact on the deceased, their next of kin and wider family.
Applications failing to demonstrate that, so far as reasonably practicable, distributive justice has been achieved, may be delayed or rejected.
- Research involving coronial material must demonstrate clear benefits and relevance to the coronial system/process.
- Careful consideration is applied to the use of samples from people whose deaths are reported to the coroner and their families due to their unique vulnerability. Becoming involved in the coronial system results from an accident of circumstances where a person is subject to legislation (the Coroners Act 2003) that abrogates 'control' of the body and removes the usual right for the next of kin to refuse an autopsy.
- Researchers should first consider non-coronial sources where at all possible. Preference should always be given to involving living participants and/or tissue that can be obtained for research from biobanks.
- Where tissue from deceased persons and/or their data are essential to the proposed research, seeking consent from the next of kin of deceased persons, who are not involved in the coronial system, may pose fewer difficulties and be less intrusive, as grief and loss in the coronial context often involves traumatic circumstances of death.
- Careful consideration should be given to whether, and how, consent can be sensitively and respectfully obtained from each next of kin without causing harm.
The FSS-HEC consider it essential to ensure coronial autopsy subjects are not favoured as potential donors for research material, and to avoid any perception that this is so.
All research involving Queensland coronial material must be reviewed by the FSS-HEC, regardless of any prior approvals.
Chair: Kate Angus
Approved December 2022
QIS document number: 22151
All email enquiries should be directed to FSS_HEC@health.qld.gov.au.
Requests for data are to be approved by the data custodian prior to release—a fee may apply.