Forensic Medicine and Science


Careers in the fields of forensic medicine and science cover a broad spectrum of disciplines and training.  Forensic medicine is a specialized branch of medicine, also referred to as legal medicine or medical jurisprudence, whereby specially-trained physicians investigate the cause and manner of death, interpret and establish the medical facts, apply their medical knowledge, and then testify to the findings in both civil and criminal law trials.  Forensic medicine is one of the largest, most important areas of the forensic sciences, and deals chiefly with the topics of anatomy and physiology, pathology and psychiatry.

Forensic medicine is the application of medical science to legal problems and typically involves cases of deaths resulting from accident, self-harm, inflicted violence and other unnatural means.  An autopsy, or other less invasive form of post-mortem examination, is used to determine the cause of death, particularly in cases where foul play is suspected or known.  Post-mortem examination can determine not only the immediate agent of death (e.g. gunshot wound, poison), but may also yield important contextual information, such as how long the person has been dead, which can help law enforcement detectives investigate the death.  Forensic medicine has also become increasingly important in cases involving rape.  Modern techniques use such specimens as semen, blood and hair samples of the criminal found in or on the victim's body, which can be compared to the defendant's genetic makeup through an analytical technique known as DNA fingerprinting. This method, among others, may also be used to identify positively a decedent.

Forensic pathology is the legal branch of pathology concerned with determining the cause of death (e.g., gunshot wound to the head, exsanguination, strangulation, etc.) and manner of death (e.g., natural, accident, suicide, homicide, undetermined).  Forensic pathologists examine wounds and injuries due to crime or negligence as well as tissue specimens to identify those relevant to crimes and the cause of death.  They also consider the findings from scene investigation, toxicological and chemical analyses, firearms and ballistics testing, trace evidence results, anthropological evidence, and other specialized disciplines to determine accurately a decedent’s cause and manner of death.

For additional details regarding forensic medicine and related sciences, please choose a topic from the blue navigation block to the left.

This page was last modified on September 22, 2022


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