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Full text of "Medical Jurisprudence And Toxicology"

CHAPTER HI

^    POST-MORTEM EXAMINATION  (AUTOPSY)

The Object.—The object of the post-mortem examination of a body is to
establish its identity when not known, and to ascertain the time since death
and the cause of death; but in addition, the question of live birth and viabi-
lity has to be determined in the case of the body of a newly-born infant.

Rules.—A medico-legal post-mortem examination should never be under-
taken unless there is a written order from the Superintendent of Police, the
District Magistrate or the Coroner. Before commencing the examination,
the medical officer should carefully read the police report on the appearance
and situation of the body when it was first discovered, and the cause of
death as far as could have been ascertained. This precaution is necessary,
especially in the case of a decomposed body, so as to enable him to examine
particularly the organ or the part of the body most suspected for the
evidence of death.

The examination should be conducted in daylight, and not in artificial
light as far as possible. It should also be as thorough and complete as cir-
cumstances permit. The three great cavities and the organs contained in
them should all be carefully examined even though the apparent cause of
death has been found in one of them, just to avoid unnecessary, and some-
times unpleasant, cross-questions in court, inasmuch as evidence of factors
contributory to the cause of death may be found in more than one organ.

Ordinarily, a dead body is sent to the morgue but in exceptional cases
the medical officer may be taken to the place where a dead body is lying.
In that case he should note the place and nature of the soil where he found
the dead body, and also its position especially as regards the hands and feet
and the state of the clothes, if any. He should also note, in the case of death
from violence, the position of the body in reference to surrounding objects,
such as sharp stones and the like, contact with which, it might be alleged,
had produced the injury, and also whether any blood stains were visible
on such objects or anywhere near the corpse, and whether any weapons were
lying near it. The ground in the vicinity should be carefully searched for
the presence of footprints and evidence of any struggle. In the case of
suspected death from poisoning, he should note whether any appearance as of
vomited matter, etc. was present in the neighbourhood of the body,

. All the details observed by the medical officer should be carefully
entered on the spot by himself in the post-mortem report (see below) or in
a note-book, which can be used as evidence in a legal inquiry. He should
not mind the report getting soiled ; this will enhance its value, inasmuch
as it goes to prove that it was written at the time when " facts were still
fresh in the mind ". If there is an assistant, the best plan is to dictate to him
as the examination proceeds step by step, and then to read, verify and attest
the report. It is not safe to trust to memory and to write the report later
after completing the examination. The notes and the report to be sent to
court must tally with each other. There should be no discrepancy. Nothing
should be erased, and all alterations should be initialled.

Report of the post-mortem examination

On the body of

Place                                '         Date                                     Time

Body identified by Police Constable
No.                                     and Chaukidar

Probable age
Probable time since death