OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
A forensic pathologist (also known as a medical examiner) is a medically trained physician who has been specifically trained in pathology to examine the bodies of the deceased to determine the cause of death. A forensic pathologist applies his or her understanding of disease as well as toxins, blood and DNA analysis, firearms and ballistics, and other factors to assess the cause and manner of death. At times, a forensic pathologist will be called to testify under oath in situations that involve a possible crime. Forensic pathology is a field that has received much media attention on television shows or following a high-profile death.
While forensic pathologists are responsible for determining whether the cause of someone’s death was natural, a suicide, accidental, or a homicide, there are times when uncovering the cause of death is more complex, and other skills are needed. Forensic anthropology brings the tools and knowledge of physical anthropology and human osteology (the study of the skeleton) to the task of investigating a death. A forensic anthropologist assists medical and legal professionals in identifying human remains. The science behind forensic anthropology involves the study of archaeological excavation; the examination of hair; an understanding of plants, insects, and footprints; the ability to determine how much time has elapsed since the person died; the analysis of past medical history and toxicology; the ability to determine whether there are any postmortem injuries or alterations of the skeleton; and the identification of the decedent (deceased person) using skeletal and dental evidence.
Due to the extensive knowledge and understanding of excavation techniques, a forensic anthropologist is an integral and invaluable team member to have on-site when investigating a crime scene, especially when the recovery of human skeletal remains is involved. When remains are bought to a forensic anthropologist for examination, he or she must first determine whether the remains are in fact human. Once the remains have been identified as belonging to a person and not to an animal, the next step is to approximate the individual’s age, sex, race, and height. The forensic anthropologist does not determine the cause of death, but rather provides information to the forensic pathologist, who will use all of the data collected to make a final determination regarding the cause of death.
Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology