The Art and Science of Autopsies: A Closer Look at Who Performs Them
Autopsies, also known as postmortem examinations, involve examining a person’s body after they have died to determine their cause of death. Autopsies are an integral part of forensic medicine, and they are carried out by trained professionals- forensic pathologists. In this article, we will explore the art and science of autopsies, and the individuals who perform them.
What are autopsies, and why are they performed?
An autopsy is a medical procedure where a trained professional examines the body of a deceased person to determine the cause of death. Autopsies are usually performed on individuals who have died in unexplained circumstances, have been involved in accidents, died due to medical complications, or have died suddenly.
The primary purpose of an autopsy is to determine the cause of death and establish the circumstances surrounding the deceased individual’s deaths. This information is critical in cases of criminal investigations, medical malpractice, and insurance claims litigation.
Who performs autopsies, and what qualifications do they need?
Autopsies are usually performed by forensic pathologists. Forensic pathologists are specially trained medical doctors who possess specialized knowledge in examining the body postmortem to determine the cause of death.
To become a forensic pathologist, a person must have a medical degree that is earned from a medical college or university. After completing medical school, the individual must then complete a residency in anatomic pathology, where they learn how to examine and diagnose diseases from biopsies and autopsies.
The residency program takes a minimum of three years, and after completion, the individual must complete a fellowship in forensic pathology. The fellowship program lasts a minimum of one year and equips the aspiring forensic pathologist with specialized knowledge on how to conduct postmortem examinations and determine the cause of death.
After completing the fellowship, the individual must then obtain board certification in forensic pathology by passing the American Board of Pathology’s forensic pathology examination.
How are autopsies performed?
Autopsies are usually performed in a specially designed autopsy suite by a team of trained professionals. The team comprises a lead forensic pathologist, a forensic pathologist assistant or technician, and a medical examiner.
The autopsy process usually involves a thorough external examination of the deceased individual’s body followed by an internal examination. The external examination involves noting any injuries, bruises, abrasions, or marks on the body. The forensic pathologist will also measure and weigh the body to determine if the individual had any significant changes in body mass before death, such as weight loss or gain.
After the external examination, the forensic pathologist will make a series of incisions on the body to gain access to the internal organs. The internal examination involves carefully examining the organs and tissues for any signs of disease, trauma, or deformities. The organs are examined in a specific order, starting with the chest cavity, followed by the abdominal cavity and the head.
During the internal examination, the forensic pathologist will collect samples of tissues and fluids from the organs for laboratory testing. The samples are crucial in determining the cause of death and establishing the circumstances surrounding the individual’s death.
Autopsies and the law:
Autopsies are an essential aspect of the legal system in many countries. In the United States, the law requires mandatory autopsies in cases of sudden or suspicious deaths. Autopsies are also carried out in cases involving medical malpractice, insurance claims litigation, and criminal investigations.
The findings from an autopsy are admissible as evidence in court proceedings, and they can help in securing convictions or settlements in cases involving wrongful death, medical malpractice, and personal injury claims.
Autopsies are a critical aspect of forensic medicine, and they are performed by trained professionals- forensic pathologists. Forensic pathologists possess specialized knowledge and skills on performing autopsies and determining the cause of death.
Autopsies are an integral part of the legal system in many countries, and the findings from autopsies can serve as evidence in court proceedings. The art and science of autopsies help in providing closure to the loved ones of the deceased and establishing the circumstances surrounding the individual’s death.