what is forensic pathology?
Forensic pathology is a sub-specialty of histopathology, and is concerned with the application of pathological principles to the investigation of the medico-legal aspects of death.
Forensic pathologists are medically qualified doctors who perform autopsies (postmortem examinations) on those who have died suddenly, unexpectedly, or as a result of trauma or poisoning.
The forensic investigation of death is a multi-disciplinary activity, involving the collaboration between pathologists, crime scene investigators (CSIs), forensic scientists, and other specialists, such as anthropologists, entomologists, odontologists (dentists) and many other experts.
Autopsy findings are combined with the results of other investigations, including the microscopic examination of organs and tissues removed at autopsy, toxicological analyses (of blood and urine, for example), and correlated with the available clinical or medical history of the deceased, as well as the circumstances of their death, in order to answer questions relating to their death.
The issues raised by a death may include:
- identification of the deceased,
- the medical cause of death,
- the interpretation of injuries, and
- the manner of death (in some jurisdictions), i.e. accident, suicide or homicide
Those who have dissected or inspected many bodies have at least learned to doubt, while those who are ignorant of anatomy and do not take the trouble to attend to it, are in no doubt at all.
Giovanni Morgagni (1682-1771)
Taceant colloquia. Effugiat risus. Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae. (Let conversation cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights to help the living.)
Latin proverb (Saukko P, Knight B. Knight's Forensic Pathology (3rd Edition) 2004. Arnold Publishers.
What does a forensic pathologist do?
A well-run mortuary doesn’t really smell; it is washed frequently and properly ventilated, and most bodies examined are fresh. But I’d never smelled anything like that putrefied body; it was an overwhelming odor, dense, wet, vile, almost shockingly sweet, like the vomit of a drunk; it seemed to coat the skin and settle into clothes. I felt nauseated, and stepped back outside the room, closed the door behind me and leaned against the wall, retching.
Dr Jonathan Hayes. Forensic Pathologist New York City.
autopsy resources - Springboard notebook
Historical illustration of a pathologist examining a body at a death scene (pre-DNA era)
Source: Science Against Crime, Kind S
forensic pathology - principles and practice
forensic medicine - clinical and pathological aspects
forensic pathology spoiling 'the perfect murder'?
See forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd discuss the forensic pathological investigation of suspicious death in this BBC documentary on 'How to commit the perfect murder'.
Time of death, Snyder Sachs, J
Buy it here
See it at Google Books here
Amid the plethora of popular books on forensic science, it's hard for writers to find a new slant. But Jessica Sachs has found one: her main themes are entomology, botany and ecology, and in particular how they help to establish time of death. Thankfully, Sachs fully acknowledges the biological variations that prohibit the ludicrous accuracy with which time of death is estimated in so many novels and television dramas.
Knight B. In the New Scientist 2001 (read the full review here)
Dear Dr. Jones,
Apologies for writing this in the feedback box on your page but I am struggling to find your contact details! I am a 4th year medical student currently organising my medical elective for June 2014. I have a strong interest in pursuing Forensic medicine and am keen to arrange a placement in Forensic Pathology. I would be most grateful if you could possibly provide me with an email contact of someone in the field who might be able to help me organise this? My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing from you,
|By||Dr Richard Jones|
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