Volume 24, Issue 1 (January 1979)
Factors Influencing Gastric Emptying
Interest in the regulation of gastric emptying dates back to 1833, when Beaumont  observed that the amount of time food remains in the stomach after a meal depends upon the type of food eaten. The application of general rules governing gastric emptying as a technique in approximating the time of death is not generally emphasized in the forensic sciences. The postmortem changes of rigor, livor, and algor mortis as well as chemical changes in the blood and vitreous are widely used for determining the time of death, yet none of these methods is truly satisfactory because of individual variations and the host of factors influencing each of them. Yet in the individual case these can be very important. Gastric emptying is no more accurate than these other methods, and studies regarding gastric emptying during life are not customarily within the scope of the forensic scientist. However, these scientists may be called on to express an opinion estimating the postmortem interval based on knowledge of the time and character of the last meal and on observation of the presence or absence of liquids or solids in the stomach of a dead person. The condition of the stomach contents remains largely unchanged after death, as observed by the presence of liquids and solids in the stomach when deaths result from either violent or natural means during or immediately following a meal. Thus, gastric emptying time is useful when the specific question of death related to a known time and character of the last meal is raised, and the presence or absence of food in the stomach may be of great probative significance, providing important or even pivotal evidence.