A forensic autopsy is a series of lab tests and examinations performed on a body to identify injuries or medical conditions that may have caused or contributed to death. The autopsy includes a thorough external and internal examination of the body. It is done by a forensic pathologist – a medical doctor who has been specially trained to recognize patterns of injury, collect evidence, and investigate the circumstances surrounding a death.
A forensic autopsy involves a thorough examination of the body as well as internal structures and organs. Additionally, lab tests are performed to check for infectious diseases, alcohol, and/or drugs.
As a facility accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners, a forensic autopsy will be performed when:
- Death is known or suspected to have been caused by apparent criminal violence
- Death is unexpected and unexplained in an infant or child
- Death is associated with police action
- Death is apparently non-natural and in custody of a local, state, or federal institution
- Death is due to acute workplace injury
- Death is caused by apparent electrocution
- Death is by apparent intoxication by alcohol, drugs, or poison
- Death is caused by unwitnessed or suspected drowning
- Body is unidentified and the autopsy may aid in identification
- Body is skeletonized
- Body is charred
- Forensic pathologist deems a forensic autopsy is necessary to determine cause or manner of death or collect evidence
The daily duties of the forensic technicians include, but are not limited to:
- Perform external examinations of bodies
- Provide primary assistance to staff pathologists, fellows and residents with autopsy procedures and related activities
- Eviscerate bodies using appropriate autopsy techniques
- Skilled use of autopsy room equipment
- Identify, diagram, photograph, collect and preserve evidence for criminal, law enforcement or investigative work
- Log samples and related pertinent information, and be responsible for containers and specimens that may be involved in court requests
- Take X-rays as needed; perform dental X-ray work-ups for forensic odontology identification as needed
- Ensure chain of custody on all evidence, property, samples and decedents
- Inventory and securely store decedent property, and release decedents and property post exams
- Clean, organize and stock the working environment before and after autopsies
- Monitor and maintain inventory of supplies and stock on hand for laboratory use
- Utilize PC to enter and retrieve decedent data and other administrative duties
- Participate in appropriate training programs, conferences and seminars to enhance proficiency and knowledge
During the course of the day, the forensic technicians may come into contact with water, liquid, blood or other body fluids. They are exposed to infections, contagious diseases, hazardous chemicals, chemical and specimen odors, and blood-borne diseases. They also need to stand for long periods of time, be able to lift and carry upwards of 75 pounds, shift and move over 200 pounds and be able to stay calm during an emergency or crisis.
These people have to be excellent problem solvers and have solid knowledge of forensics and anatomy. Forensic technicians have to be comfortable working with the remains of the decedents. Because they work in an environment along with other people, they should possess great interpersonal, communication and organizational skills.
To become a forensic technician one needs to have the minimum of a high school diploma or GED and at least six semester hours in courses like biology, human anatomy, medical terminology, life sciences or criminal justice, as long as the course has a lab component.