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FORENSIC MEDICINE

Pathology—More than a ‘dead-end’

The essence of pathology is the detailed study of disease and injury. While diagnosis and treatment are commonplace pursuits of clinical medical practice, the path to choosing the correct diagnosis is usually under the watchful eye of a pathologist. Whether to understand the origin of a disease as being inherited or infectious, or to interpret injury, pathology becomes important when the doctor is planning treatment, thus the outcome for the patient, especially in the case of malignant and infectious disease. The pathologist is the doctor’s doctor!

Historically, pathology closely followed anatomy in setting the foundations of medicine in science. Today, pathology is most frequently practiced through routine and complex laboratory tests of tissue and fluids from the living that help choose the correct diagnosis. These factors have immense bearing on the bedside (clinical) practice of medicine through understanding the cause of disease or injury and for example, how those could be related through environment.  Pathological diagnosis is increasingly the anchor of sound medical and surgical management.

Not surprisingly, with deep roots in cause, pathology also retains its birthright as a basic medical science, contributing significantly to medical research in areas such as the study of molecular basis (DNA) of disease.

We begin to see that pathology neither begins nor ends with death and autopsy.

Forensic Pathology—Detectives in White Coats

Forensic practice is also found in applied sciences (engineering, psychology), biological sciences (entomology, anthropology and botany), accounting, and other areas where experts provide opinion evidence in civil or criminal proceeding, often before a court of law.

When disease or injury is plain yet the origin(s) and mechanism is not, the pathologist is the best medical specialist to provide interpretation and an explanation. He/she understands the mechanism and relationships of injury in assault, or whether safety restraints or other protective devices (e.g. helmets) were effective during driving, recreation or work.

Commonly we relate forensic pathology to crime. Criminal acts with weapons causing injury (assault, child abuse) or death require expert interpretation of wounds and the relationship of wounds to an alleged weapon(s), to the amount of force and the effect of pre-existing disease on an apparently violent death. These are embodiments of forensic pathology practice as it relates to criminal law. The time of death and identification of the dead are also basic elements of forensic pathology as practiced in the area of criminal justice. Along with mechanism of injury or the cause of death/injury, these elements may also be relevant in civil law issues e.g., a tort, insurance and estates.

Forensic pathologists know no allegiance to anything within this arena, other than to the pursuit of justice.

 



Pathfinder Forum microscope

"If the law has made you a witness remain a man of science. You have no victim to avenge, no guilty or innocent person to ruin or save. You must bear witness within the limits of science."

Paul H. Brossard
Chair of Forensic Medicine
Sorbonne, 1897




















   

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