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Science of Autopsy
An autopsy is an examination that is performed to discover a disease, infection, or cause of death for a postmortem body. These procedures allow pathologists to discover underlying issues that were not addressed at the person’s time of death. “The word “autopsy” is derived from ancient Greek, autopsia, which means “to see for oneself” (Bushak 2014). Autopsies were first performed in Egypt as a sacrilegious way to prevent postmortem bodies from reaching the afterlife. In the 19th century, autopsies were further evolved into a more medical and treatable procedure. Today, autopsies are a very informational way to determine a person’s death that were involved in difficult crime scenes or freak accidents.
Pathologists perform either forensic of clinical autopsies when examining a deceased body. A forensic autopsy is usually performed on behalf of a legal issue and serve the purpose of determining whether the death was natural, accidental, homicidal, suicidal, or undetermined. A clinical autopsy is used to further research within the medical field and allows hospitals to be able to provide the upmost care to their patients. The two different inspections that pathologists execute on the body are an external and internal exam. First, the external exam is used to identify the body and to gather physical qualities such as eye color, skin complexion, facial hair, weight, and height. Next, an internal exam is performed to view and dissect major organs; as well as taking skin and fluid samples. This process can take up much time and cause quite a mess; but carrying out this procedure ensures that the body obtains a thorough inspection and receives complete aftercare.
There are different qualities of the external and internal body when determining the cause of death. For example, red skin color at death provides a pathologist with the assumption that the individual died due to carbon monoxide poisoning. “Bluish black skin in death (is) due to opium poisoning (and) brownish (skin) in death (is) due to any chemical containing phosphorus” (Qadeer, Yasmeen, Haq 67). Severe cuts and burns can also be associated with other causes of death rather than the straight-forward reason (bleeding out, severe burns). Many pathologists have linked cuts and burns to car accidents; as many drivers and passengers who have been in deadly car accidents have received various burn marks from possible explosions and glass lacerations. “External post mortem can help the law in solving the problems related to the cause of death” (67). There are endless types of abrasions and skin discolorations that can help link the causes of death with a specific individual. In Qadeer’s research study, he had medical students conduct 400 autopsies and determine the cause of death based on external features. His conclusion determined that “external post mortem along with the help of forensic science laboratory can help the law in solving the problems related to the cause of death” (69). The most frequent age group pertaining to autopsy patients was 21 – 30 years old; which was 35% of all autopsies performed. Two other interesting facts showed that 89% of autopsy patients were males and that almost 58% of deaths were solely due to firearm injury. This is a very surprising result due to the fact that more than half of the deaths could have been prevented. “All of these unnatural deaths can be prevented by improving social justice/education, by providing better psychiatric treatment facilities and by accepting the social rights of others” (69). It upsets me how so many deaths could have been averted if society was not so aggressive and physically violent.
Although the easiest way to perform an autopsy is to have a freshly passed body, there are instances where autopsies have to be executed on decomposed bodies. “Autopsy performed on fresh body can help in finding the cause of death, mode of death, manner of death, time since dead, any associated crime with the death, whether born alive or dead and it also help in personal identification of the dead” (Qadeer, Haq, Haq 159). Body decomposition is the process of a postmortem body decaying and becoming unrecognizable. A body that begins to decay will begin to smell of rotted bodily fluids, internal body components, and extensive bug infestation. The decomposing body will also begin to go through the process of autolysis; “which is self-digestion of the dead body by its own enzymes and it starts within 3 to 4 hours” (Qadeer 157). These elements can make it extremely hard for a pathologist to determine the cause of death; as well as make it difficult to examine the inner body parts for infections/diseases. Qadeer’s second research study investigated 400 autopsies that were performed by medical students to determine the age and sex of the patients. The results showed that almost all of decomposed bodies were able to be recognized solely by the external body components (genitalia). “Autopsy performed on a putrefied body all these questions un-answered or give a confused answer” (159). Reasons that can cause the body to not receive proper post mortem procedures can be due to not being able to find the body in time or the death was not announced until after the body was found. Difficult murder crimes or elderly individuals passing away alone can cause bodies to not be found in a reasonable amount of time; resulting in their decomposition and difficult autopsy.