The noun forensic medicine has one meaning the branch of medicine that interprets and establishes the medical facts in civil or criminal law cases. Also called legal medicine or medical jurisprudence.
Medical jurisprudence is a science of applying medical facts to legal problems. Routine tasks include filling out birth and death certificates, deciding insurance eligibility, and reporting infectious disease. Perhaps more significant is medical testimony in court. When merely relating observations, doctors are ordinary witnesses; interpreting facts based on medical knowledge makes them expert witnesses, required to present their opinions without bias toward the side that called them. Conflicts between medicine and law can occur, usually over medical confidentiality.
Forensic medicine is one of the largest and most important areas of forensic science. Also called legal medicine or medical jurisprudence, it applies medical knowledge to criminal and civil law. Areas of medicine that are commonly involved in forensic medicine are anatomy, pathology, and psychiatry.
Medical jurisprudence or forensic medicine, the application of medical science to legal problems. It is typically involved in cases concerning blood relationship, mental illness, injury, or death resulting from violence. Autopsy (see post-mortem examination) is often used to determine the cause of death, particularly in cases where foul play is suspected. Post-mortem examination can determine not only the immediate agent of death (e.g. gunshot wound, poison), but may also yield important contextual information, such as how long the person has been dead, which can help trace the killing. Forensic medicine has also become increasingly important in cases involving rape. Modern techniques use such specimens as semen, blood, and hair samples of the criminal found in the victim’s bodies, which can be compared to the defendant’s genetic makeup through a technique known as DNA fingerprinting; this technique may also be used to identify the body of a victim. The establishment of serious mental illness by a licensed psychologist can be used in demonstrating incompetency to stand trial, a technique which may be used in the insanity defense (see insanity), albeit infrequently. The synonym of forensic medicine is forensic pathology.
Forensic pathology is the legal branch of pathology concerned with determining cause of death (such as bullet wound to head, exsanguiation, strangulation, etc.) and manner of death (including murder, accident, natural, or suicide). Examination of some wounds and injuries due to crime or negligence Examination of tissue specimens that may be relevant to rape, or other crimes. Forensic pathologists work closely with the coroner (England and Wales) or medical examiner (United States). The examination of dead bodies (autopsy or post mortem) is a subset of anatomical pathology. Often times, a coroner or medical examiner has a background in pathology.
Forensic medicine is often used in civil cases. The cause of death or injury is considered in settling insurance claims or medical malpractice suits, and blood tests often contribute to a court’s decision in cases attempting to determine the paternity of a child.
(post mortem examination or an obduction)
How is an autopsy performed? The extent of an autopsy can vary from a single organ such as the heart or brain to a very extensive examination. Examination of the chest, abdomen, and brain is probably considered by most as the standard autopsy and one technique is briefly described below. The autopsy begins with a complete external examination. The body weight and height are recorded, and identifying marks such as scars and tattoos are documented.
The internal examination begins with the creation of a Y or U-shaped incision from both shoulders joining over the sternum and continuing down to the pubic bone. The skin and underlying tissues are then separated to expose the rib cage and abdominal cavity. The front of the rib cage is removed to expose the neck and chest organs. This opening allows the trachea (windpipe), thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, esophagus, heart, thoracic aorta and lungs to be removed. Following removal of the neck and chest organs, the abdominal organs are cut (dissected) free. These include the intestines, liver, gallbladder and bile duct system, pancreas, spleen, adrenal glands, kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, abdominal aorta, and reproductive organs. To remove the brain, an incision is made in the back of the skull from one ear to the other. The scalp is cut and separated from the underlying skull and pulled forward. The top of the skull is removed using a vibrating saw. The entire brain is then gently lifted out of the cranial vault. The spinal cord may also be taken by removing the anterior or posterior portion of the spinal column. In general, pieces of all of the major organs mentioned above are converted into thin sections of tissue that can be placed on slides and studied under a microscope. The organs may be returned to the body or may be retained for teaching, research, and diagnostic purposes.
Dissection and examination of a dead body to determine cause of death and learn about disease processes in ways that are not possible with the living. Autopsies have contributed to the development of medicine since at least the Middle Ages. Beyond revealing causes of individual deaths, autopsy is crucial to the accuracy of disease and death statistics, the education of medical students, the understanding of new and changing diseases, and the advancement of medical science.