Determination of the Causes of Death
According to Lyman (2016), determination of the cause of death is a vital undertaking that a pathologist has to carry out in the course of carrying out an autopsy. With regards to legality, Maloney (2012) notes that it is a requirement for the law enforcement agencies and officers to have the aptitude to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the dead individual has succumbed to means apart from the natural causes. Undeniably such are the figures of murder in different parts of the globe that it has been made a fundamental prerequisite for any personality who has died suddenly to have a competent pathologist perform an autopsy on them with the objective of proving the definite cause of death as well as ruling out the possibility of foul play. Also, it is worth noting that each death that is reported to a court of law is not unique but also calls for an individual investigative approach. To realize this, the courts have established several procedures that enable diverse departments of the courts and law enforcement agencies to team up in performing investigations appropriately all through the different stages of the coroner’s investigation.
Factors to Take into Consideration in Determining Cause of Death
Successful determination of the cause of death is mainly performed through taking several factors into consideration. Firstly, one has to determine whether the body of the deceased person was located at a location where she/he would not usually visit. Secondly, the investigator has to observe whether the dead person is in a condition of undress or even has discernible injuries not usually existent in a natural death. Lastly, the investigator should establish if the present injuries are caused by a knife, a gunshot or a blunt object. The above queries must be answered, and the answers must be satisfactory to the pathologist. However, in certain deaths, an inquest may be necessary so as to establish the manner through which the person died. Moreover, regardless of whether the death was caused by misadventure, was accidental or was as a consequence of the natural causes, and the pathologist might be required. Therefore, a pathologist is called upon to proffer expert opinion and testimony so as to prove beyond any reasonable doubt the causative factor(s) of the death.
Making Decision on the Cause
In a criminal investigation into the cause of death, the precise nature of death is always that proving the manner in which it occurred may at times be a challenging task. There may not essentially be perceptible indications of the way death happened, and similarly, there may also not be any record of illness to depend on as a way of diagnosis. For that matter, the medical records, next of kin statements and psychiatric reports are needed in instances where death happens devoid of any warning. This is mainly to assist in the development of the deceased person’s life along the way and before the death. Additionally, this is important in the case, for instance, the dead person suffered from elevated degrees of stress, or even in cases where coronary heart conditions might be probable causes of death.
Nonetheless, according to Lyman (2016), the principal means through which the cause of death may be established if through a performance of an autopsy. The autopsy provides an explicit proof with regards to the cause of death, and, therefore, has the aptitude to shed more light on the manner in which death happened. For instance, in case the deceased was a victim of a deadly stabbing, an autopsy is likely to show the description of the perpetrator. These may include if the executor was either right handed or left, short or tall, light or heavy, as well as any other notable attributes that might assist in the construction of the attributes and the attacker’s physical profile. In a similar manner that the autopsy is capable of proving whether the dead person made attempts to shield himself or was just defeated by the attacker, which is also constructive information when developing the picture of the offense.
Over and above such points the autopsy may additionally go a long way to assisting in the estimation of the time of demise, something which is prone to be extremely tricky in case the deceased body has been stumbled on outdoors or if the body has been stumbled on following a prolonged duration of being lost. Also establishing the cause of an individual’s death and approximating the time of demise are enormously advantageous in every criminal investigation and provide important signs as to the preceding moments and hours of the person’s life before their death.
In an instance where foul play is suspected, the pathologist and the investigators are directed to steer clear of avoiding any contact with either the friends or family members of the deceased unless permitted to do so, similar to the way a judge is tasked to do in the course of a trial. Even as it is at times helpful for the investigators and pathologist to confer issues linked to the dead person with either the friends or family, it is essential to obtain the necessary permission from the concerned authorities before doing so.
The criminal investigation of death to determine the cause normally entails five key steps. These are discussed below.
- Analysis of the Scene of Death
On arriving at the scene of death, the investigator has to interview the witness and the next of kin who might have arrived at the scene. Further, the investigator has to get the dead person’s demographic data, as well as his/her medical history. The investigator has also to take photographs of the dead persons at the death scene with the objective of collecting incidental data on the way the death happened and gather necessary items that can be pertinent to establishing the individual’s cause of death. However, in instances where the apt investigator is not at the death scene, the on-scene law enforcers will be tasked with the investigation of the cause of death and the way the death happened. In case the death occurred in a hospital, a review of the place where the body was found will be undertaken.
- Transportation of the Body
After investigation of the scene of death by the investigators, and following the interview of the witnesses and the next of kin, a decision may be arrived at to transport the deceased to an appropriate forensic laboratory for further physical examination. The body is thus transported to the laboratory compassionately and safely.
- Identification of the Body
At this stage, the investigator and the medical examiners make attempts at positively identifying the bodies as quickly as is logically probable. However, body recognition might take place at the scene of death. Still, it is possible that a body may be brought to the forensic laboratory when its identity has not been confirmed. In identifying the body, the investigator may have to ask the individual identifying the body about their relationship with the deceased and themselves. For instance, the investigator may request them to observe the deceased body at the scene of death, in case they are present, come to the forensic laboratory of a police station to observe the dead person’s CCTV image, and also to view a photograph of the deceased.
To assist in the identification of the body, the deceased’s tattoos and scars, as well as circumstantial evidence may be used. The deceased person’s fingerprints, x-rays and laboratory examinations are also useful in the identification of the body given that they can be used in comparison to the dental records, surgical hardware and old bony injuries.
- Examination of the Body
The investigator may at this stage make use of the services of a medical examiner to carry out an external review or autopsy on the body of the deceased. The decision to carry out such examination is always founded on aspects such as the deceased’s medical history, development leading to the death and the first examination of the body. However, in instances where a member of the deceased person’s family objects to the full autopsy, the medical examiner allotted to the case should notify the investigator charged with the case as fast as possible. The wishes of the investigator will, therefore, be considered and weighed against the law enforcement agency’s objective of ensuring examination integrity.
According to Maloney (2012), the examination processes comprise some processes that are classified as either external examination or autopsy examination. With regards to external examination, Kilfeather (016) observe that it is a methodical assessment of the deceased’s body in which the body is evaluated for evidence of harm and indications of natural disease. The external examination may additionally entail the performance of partial internal cavity assessment and toxicology and x-ray sampling.
On the other hand, autopsy examination, which is the outer evaluation of the body that is preceded by detailed dissection, is mainly performed to inspect indications of trauma and disease. To complete this successfully, smaller pieces of the organ tissues along with the body fluids are sampled to enable the performance of biological/chemical tests and for microscopic analysis. Some of the organs, for instance, the brain and the heart might be retained for further examinations. It is worth noting that the body reviews often take several hours and that post-mortem tests are only carried out during the weekdays.
After the assessment
Following the examination in the forensic laboratory, the body is then released to a funeral home selected by the family members, and after confirmation of the deceased identity. The investigator will then discuss the outcomes of the findings concerning the investigation that was performed. However, in instances where the case is suspicious, the information presented with the next of kin may be restricted as a consequence of the need to sustain the integrity of the continuing criminal investigation. This is further followed by the completion of documents linked to investigations. The process may take time owing to the need to carry out further laboratory investigations and to conduct the additional paper-based evaluation of reports and medical records. Upon completion of the investigation, the medical examiner assigned to the case will issue a proof of death document and related documentations. This may be given to the law enforcement agencies in instances where foul play has been noted so as to enable them carry out investigations and apprehend the guilty parties.