Forensic Medicine: A Complete Overview

It is crucial to first comprehend the definition of “forensic medicine” in its most basic sense before progressively gaining more insight into its many facets. Forensic medicine is a hugely fascinating field of medicine. The Latin term “forensis,” which means “anything about a forum,” is the source of the English word “forensic.” Forums were the gathering places for influential individuals in ancient Rome where all civic and legal issues were debated and various difficulties were resolved. As a result, “forensic” refers to any matters involving a court of law.

Forensic Medicine: Study for 'Autopsy at the Hôtel-Dieu'
Study for ‘Autopsy at the Hôtel-Dieu’ by National Gallery of Art is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

When the terms “medicine” and “forensic” are combined, numerous implications arise regarding the application of extensive medical knowledge to the resolution of medicolegal issues, such as determining the precise cause of death or the duration of death, etc. Forensic medicine is the area of medicine that deals with using medical knowledge to support the administration of justice. Previously known as Medical Jurisprudence, the term “forensic medicine” is derived from the Latin term “jurisprudentia,” which means “the study, knowledge, or science of law.” While it was more broadly referred to as “the philosophy of law” in the United States.

A range of medical professions that examine and diagnose people who have been hurt or who have passed away due to external or unnatural causes, such as poisoning, assault, suicide, or other types of violence, and then apply their findings to the law are collectively referred to as forensic medicine (i.e. court cases). The practice of forensic pathology, forensic psychiatry, forensic dentistry, forensic radiography, and forensic toxicology are all part of the multi-disciplinary field of forensic medicine.  The condition of the patients differs across the two primary subfields of forensic medicine: clinical forensic medicine and pathological forensics medicine.

In clinical forensic medicine, trauma to living patients is investigated, whereas, in pathological forensic medicine, trauma to the deceased is examined to determine the cause of death. The autopsy has historically been the main forensic medical tool. Autopsies are frequently used to identify the deceased, but they can also be used to establish the cause of death. Forensic pathologists can frequently provide specific details regarding the type of weapon used as well as crucial contextual information in cases of death brought on by a weapon, for instance. (For instance, he can reasonably pinpoint the range and angle of fire in a shooting death.)

Identification of disaster victims, whether those of a landslide or an airplane crash, depends in large part on forensic medicine. Forensic pathologists have a substantial impact on the result of cases involving insurance and inheritance when determining the cause of death.

Forensic medicine is the use of medical expertise for both civil and criminal legal proceedings, such as in assault and auto accident cases. The forensic expert can provide an opinion on whether or not the aforementioned injuries were caused by a vehicle accident, the length of the injuries, the type of injuries, the cause of death, etc.

Similarly to this, a forensic expert can provide an opinion regarding whether or not a sexual assault occurred, the type of injuries sustained, how long it lasted, etc. To resolve problems relating to medicolegal concerns, such as in cases of anesthetic fatalities, alleged negligence, unlawful abortion, and unexpected deaths owing to various reasons, the forensic expert must have a basic understanding of other fields of medical science. Thus, medical jurisprudence addresses the legal obligations of the doctor with a focus on those resulting from the doctor-patient relationship, such as cases of medical negligence, a doctor’s ethical obligations, professional misconduct, etc.

Scope of Forensic medicine

  • Wounds and injuries
  • Sexual assaults
  • Children
  • Scene of death
  • Determination of death
  • Cause of death
  • Postmortem examinations
  • Court testimony and reports

Investigation of death

  • To determine the cause and manner of death.
  • To identify the deceased if unknown.
  • To determine the time of death and injury.
  • To collect evidence from the body that can be used to prove or disprove an individual’s guilt or innocence and to confirm or deny the account of how the death occurred.
  • To document injuries or lack of them.
  • To deduce how the injuries occurred.
  • To document any natural diseases present.
  • To determine or exclude other contributory or causative factors to the death.
  • To provide expert testimony if the case goes to trial.

It specifically addresses the legal facets of medical practice. The first person to hold the chair of medical jurisprudence was Andrew Duncan the junior (1773–1832), a Scottish physician and professor at the University of Edinburgh. This was imposed during the time of notable British leader Charles James Fox. In 1949, Dr. Stanford Emerson Chaille, the father of hygiene and health education in America, recommended the development of forensic medicine, also known as state medicine, to regulate and direct the conduct of registered medical practitioners and supervise allied medical practice.

Occasionally, even the terminology In several parts of the world, forensic medicine has also been referred to as legal medicine. Medical ethics is concerned with the moral principles that ought to direct medical professionals in their interactions with one another, their patients, and the government. The customary rules of decency followed by medical professionals are covered under medical etiquette. Since the doctor’s actions against his colleague were self-imposed, it is not punishable. However, it is implied that a doctor should treat his colleague with the same respect that he would show to himself and should not degrade or belittle another professional when treating a patient.

 The history of forensic medicine is quite old. Documents related to medico-legal work have been found dating back to 4000-3999B.C. in Egypt, Sumer, Babylon, India, and china.

 A document dated around 3000 B.C. has been found in china that describes poison. Since the time before Christ, there has been an enduring connection between legal medicine and history, and this effect has been felt not only in India but also throughout the world. The Charaka Samhita, which dates to around the 7th century BC, elaborately outlined the code of medical ethics, training responsibilities, social standing, and privileges of a physician, as well as a description of many poisons and their treatments. The term “mithya,” which dates back to the earliest works of literature, is employed in the Charaka Samhita to refer to carelessness. “Mithyopachara” is how the Sushruta Samhita described the doctor’s wrong behavior.

King Manu, who was regarded as the law-giver, authored the Manusmriti, a collection of rules that included descriptions of the penalties for offenses including sexual assault and other crimes, in the fourth century BC. Even mental disability brought on by alcoholism, advanced age, or insanity was acknowledged by Manusmriti. The Manusmriti, Kautilya’s Arthashastram, and Yajnavalkya Smriti have also mentioned how victims of medical incompetence are compensated up to 1,000 Panama (silver coins). The definition of numerous torture conventions, techniques for torturing a prisoner, and rules governing medical treatment are all found in Kautilya’s Arthasashtra.

India’s advancement in forensic medicine In Calcutta, the first medical school was founded in 1822, and it was later converted into a medical college in 1835. Following the 1835 establishment of a medical school in Madras, it was converted into a college in 1850. The first medical college in Bombay was founded in 1850. The Madras Medical College developed the first clear lead in medical jurisprudence in the year 1857 AD. The first lecturer was Dr. Urguhart, a private physician, and Madras’ coroner. The books that were read after them came from England.

Taylor’s Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence and Casper’s Medical Jurisprudence were the two widely read books by English authors. The first book, Medical Jurisprudence for India, was written in 1856 by Dr. Norman Chevers, followed by Dr. I. B. Lyon in 1888, and then „Legal Medicine in India and Toxicology” by Major Collies Berry in 1902. Leading medicolegal authority Dr. JP Modi was a lecturer at Agra Medical College and afterward at Lucknow Medical College starting in 1918. The “Text Book of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology,” his debut book, was released in 1920.

The book appears to be well-liked by both lawyers and judges in addition to medical students. In 1833, India’s penal code was codified by the British authorities. The Indian Penal Code (IPC), which replaced all earlier laws, was created in 1860. The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) was first put into effect in 1861. These laws are still in effect today. The Indian Police Act was introduced at the same time as outlining the process for criminal investigations, and only the metropolises of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras used the coroner system, with the remainder of the nation relying on police inquests. After that, the coroner system was eliminated nationwide in 1999.

In 1912, province medical councils were established, and under its rules, medical practitioners were first obliged to register with their respective state medical councils to practice modern medicine. The Indian Medical Degrees Act was created in 1916 to sanction individuals who possess fake licenses to practice medicine and accept credentials from accredited universities.

The Indian Medical Council was created in 1933 as a result of the Indian Medical Council Act, which was implemented to oversee the state medical councils and manage any flaws in medical education nationwide. Dactylography, or the fingerprint system for personal identification, is one of India’s greatest contributions to contemporary criminology.

Branches of Forensic Medicine

Several sub-sections make up the field of forensic medicine. The field of forensic pathology focuses on asphyxial deaths as well as other types of fatalities, morbid anatomy, and injury mechanisms. The area of psychiatry that studies the legal ramifications of mental diseases is forensic psychiatry. The expertise of dentistry is used in forensic odontology for purposes of identification, bite mark injuries, etc. The teeth that are used for identification contain a variety of characteristics. In a legal sense, forensic anthropology examines various body types and bone structures primarily for identification purposes.

A discipline that complements forensic medicine is the field of forensic science. A biologist or chemist who deals with the criminal aspects of criminal investigations is currently the most common non-medical scientist to work in this field. The relationship between forensic scientists and forensic medical professionals is quite close since the former gathers evidence during medicolegal autopsies or while evaluating living people, and the latter performs the tests and assists in rendering an opinion. As a result, both of these branches are useful to one another.

The teaching of forensic medicine has improved over the years in India as well, due to the establishment of more forensic medicine departments in different medical colleges and the expansion of postgraduate programs, which has resulted in the production of a large number of talented and devoted forensic medicine specialists. To help in the administration of justice, forensic medicine is nothing more than the practice and application of common sense along with medical knowledge, observation, and legal considerations.

The primary focus of forensic medicine is the examination and evaluation of people who have been hurt or murdered by external causes like trauma or intoxication—or who are suspected of having been—as well as people who are suspected of having hurt someone else. This means that a forensic medical expert examines suicides and accidental deaths in addition to crime victims and suspects (or forensic pathology). On the other hand, people who sustain nonfatal injuries as a result of self-inflicted, unintentional, or accidental harm or drunkenness are typically only treated by the medical system. In many nations, forensic medicine is a branch of medicine that belongs to the judicial system rather than the healthcare system.

Different nations have slightly different formal organizations for forensic medicine and forensic medicine specialists. For instance, the medicolegal experts in central Europe are chosen from universities because it is thought that this ensures their independence, objectivity, and scientific foundation. Forensic medical services are administered by a national governmental body in Sweden and Finland, but in the US, Canada, and other Anglo-Saxon nations, several systems are used that are sometimes difficult to distinguish under the general phrases “coroner system” and “medical examiner system.”

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