Volume 18, Issue 3 (July 1973)
The Adversary System: Role of the Forensic Pathologist
Since antiquity dead human bodies have been subject to examination under exceptional conditions. Thus, we note that the body of Julius Caesar, murdered in 44 B.C., was examined by the physician Antistius. A stab wound had penetrated his thoracic cavity whereas the remaining twenty-two wounds were designated as nonfatal in type. Throughout world history, works have been written which touch upon various facets of legal medicine including those pertaining to pathology. Evolution of legal pathology has been constant but occurring in fits and spurts. In Great Britain and in the United States changes are constantly being sought to improve medico-legal death investigations. Today, it seems evident that the complexities of such investigations require that forensic pathology be maintained as an independent entity. All previous and current systems have had one common theme, the investigation of apparent criminally caused deaths. Yet today we see that the forensic pathologist should be concerned with death investigations that relate to a broader theme, the public interest. In Florida, such deaths are defined as follows: (1) When any person dies in the state (a) Of criminal violence; (b) By accident; (c) By suicide; (d) Suddenly, when in apparent good health; (e) Unattended by a practicing physician or other recognized practitioner; (f) In any prison or penal institution; (g) In police custody; (h) In any suspicious or unusual circumstance; (i) By criminal abortion; (j) By poison; (k) By disease constituting a threat to public health; or (l) By disease, injury, or toxic agent resulting from employment; or (2) (a) When a dead body is brought into the state without proper medical certification; or (b) When a body is to be cremated, dissected, or buried at sea.These deaths have some degree of potential public interest and indicate the effect of social and health problems. Although less than ten percent of the above types of death may be the result of criminal causation, all should be of public concern. The pathologist, involved with such cases, is in a position to appreciate the problems of society and thus becomes the community pathologist.