Friday, February 22, 2013

Forensic Friday: The Autopsy Report


Autopsies are conducted when the cause of death is suspicious or unknown.  Most of us would never see one, but if you’re a crime author, you should know what they look like and the basic format they follow.  This is the purpose of this post.

Page one of the report will start with the summation of the basics and final diagnoses.

It will read similar to this at the top: 

Lambton County
Medical Examiner’s Office
Autopsy Report
ME No.: 13-1352

CASE TITLE:  SUSPICIOUS DEATH

DECEASED:  JOHN SMITH                              SEX:  M                 AGE:  25

DATE AND HOUR OF DEATH:  01-05-13; 05:16 a.m.

DATE AND HOUSE OF AUTOPSY:  01-05-13;  3:30 p.m.

PATHOLOGIST:  MICHEAL HENRY, M.D.                                  
STAFF:   RENEE BAXTER, M.D.

Following this will be a list of the final diagnoses, which is basically a breakdown of the autopsy findings.  It is signed off by the pathologist and staff as noted at the top of the report.

Each page of the report is listed with the header of the deceased, the ME No., and the page number.

It follows in the natural progression of the autopsy:

Identification

External Examination
                Clothing
                Medical Intervention
                Radiographs
                Evidence of Blunt Force Injury (if applicable)

Internal Examination
                Head
                Neck
                Body Cavities
                Respiratory System
                Cardiovascular System
                Liver & Biliary System
                Spleen and Hematopoietic System
                Pancreas
                Adrenals
                Genitourinary System
                Gastrointestinal Tract

Additional Procedures

Microsopic Examination
                Heart
                Lungs
                Spleen
                Liver
                Pancreas
                Kidney
                Brain


The breakdown:

Identification
                A summary as to how identification was confirmed. For example dental records.

External Examination
                This includes every physical trait on the body from pimples to bruising.  The sizes are noted in detail. It includes height, weight, observations as to rigor and body temperature, hair color etc.  Basically an entire overview.
                Clothing is noted in depth.  What the deceased is wearing from brand to color to size.  Even if the clothing was examined separately as in cases where medical intervention was required.  
                If medical intervention was taken, in what condition did they arrive?  If they were in a hospital gown instead of their street clothes, this is noted.
                Radiographs reveal if there is any bony injury.
                If there is evidence of blunt force injury, everything is noted in detail, including the size of bruising.

Internal Examination
                The weight of the brain and condition of the head and brain are noted.
                The neck is examined for hemorrhage or anything that stands out.
                Body cavities are visibly inspected for anything unusual.
                The lungs, heart, liver, spleen, and kidneys are weighed and observations made.
                The pancreas and gastrointestinal tract are examined and observations made.
               
Additional Procedures
                This notes photographs taken and whether specimens were retained for toxicologic testing, etc.

Microscopic Examination
                The heart, lungs, spleen, liver, pancreas, and kidneys are further inspected and observations made.

As you can see the ideal autopsy report lists everything in minor, accurate detail.  The report isn’t tainted to simply make observations that can tilt the cause of death to foul play but is subjective, recording everything to obtain a clear picture.  Even if the lungs or heart, for example, appear healthy this is noted.  It may also consists of diagrams.