Volume 42, Issue 4 (July 1997)
Forensic Autopsies from 1984 to 1993 in Vienna, Austria
In Austria every death is subject to an examination by a medical doctor authorized by the local health authority. If death is suspected to be unnatural and/or perpetrated by another person, this doctor has to report it to the police. Depending on the investigation results, the examining magistrate in charge demands a judicial autopsy at the institute of Forensic Medicine. In 1989, 41 murders of old patients by nursing assistants in a Viennese public hospital were disclosed. The main aim of this retrospective study was to determine any change in the demand for forensic autopsies by the Viennese health authority, as well as by the criminal court, after 1989. Furthermore, it was of interest to analyze the reporting practices of medical doctors examining corpses, as well as the reaction of the criminal court during the study period. After 1989, there was a signifcant increase of non-judicial and judicial autopsies, performed by Viennese forensic pathologists. In addition, there was a significant increase of reports to the police by coroners as well as by forensic pathologists, paralleled by a higher rate of forensic autopsies demanded by the examining magistrate. This increase of forensic autopsies took place even though the overall rate of deaths in Vienna significantly decreased during the 10-year study period. Thus, the disclosure of 41 murders in the Viennese hospital in 1989 can be assumed as a turning point in the reporting practices of Viennese coroners, as well as the autopsy rate handled by Viennese forensic pathologists.