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Full text of "Medical Jurisprudence And Toxicology"

192                                              MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE

When a body has been exposed to great heat, it becomes so rigid with
the limbs flexed and arms fixed that it assumes an attitude of defence, called
the " pugilistic" or " fencing" posture. This stiffening is due to the
coagulation of its albuminous constituents. If the heat applied is very
great, cracks and fissures resembling incised wounds often occur in the skin
and tissues, but no blood clot, nor infiltration of the blood, is found in the
cellular spaces, and the blood vessels are seen stretching across the fissures,
as they are not usually burnt. Sometimes the skin, being hard and brittle
due to the effect of heat, cracks easily, when an attempt is made to remove
the body from a house destroyed by fire.

Fig. 68.—Death from Burning: Note the pugilistic posture and a
piece of cloth, in the mouth used as a gag to "stifle cries.

(From a photograph lent kindly by Dr. H. S. Mehta.)

Scalds caused by boiling water or steam produce reddening and vesi-
cation but do not affect the hairs, and do not blacken or char the skin.
Superheated steam soddens the skin, which has lost its elasticity, and has a
dirty white appearance.

It is difficult to identify a badly charred or incinerated body, but it is
possible to ascertain the sex, as the uterus in the female and the prostate in
the male resist the action of fire in a marked degree, and may show only
slight changes, even when the body has been almost consumed. If the
skeleton has remained intact, even though the soft tissues have been
destroyed entirely by fire, the sex may be recognized from the characteristic
appearances of the pelvic bones, and the approximate age may be deter-
mined by noting the teeth and observing the centres of ossification in the
bones and the condition of epiphyses. If the whole body has been destroyed
and reduced to ashes, teeth, pieces of bones, buttons, etc. may be found on
carefully sifting the ashes, and may be of value in establishing identity.

Internal.—The skull bones are found fractured or burst open, if intense
heat has been applied. The brain and its meninges are generally congested.
There is extravasation of blood, usually brick-red in colour, upon the upper
surface of the dura mater. The brain is sometimes shrunken, though its
form is retained. In a case of death from accidental burning on the 30th
November 1921, I found the membranes adherent to the skull cap and the
brain shrunken and dried up. If death has occurred from suffocation, the