Forensic Pathology is the study of how injury and/or disease affect a person at the point of death. An autopsy is a detailed form of medical inspection of the body, performed by a Forensic Pathologist, to determine the presence, nature, and extent of any disease or damage in order to ascertain the cause of death.
In the Franklin County Coroner’s Office there are five Forensic Pathologists who, as Deputy Coroners, analyze the circumstances surrounding the death and determine whether an autopsy is indicated. Autopsies are performed at the discretion of the team of Pathologists. For cases in which an autopsy is not indicated, an external examination is performed.
An autopsy consists of the gross external and internal examination of a body and of microscopic examinations of tissues for evidence of disease and trace physical evidence. Additional studies such as special stains or microscopic tissue sections, bacterial and viral cultures, rape examinations, and analyses for inborn errors of metabolism are utilized as needed.
Autopsies on victims of homicides can assist in evidence collection that may help to convict the guilty party or it may help to exonerate the innocent. The autopsy may prevent the defense from claiming that the decedent was already dead when the defendant assaulted him. Investigations of deaths in childhood can help to confirm or allay any suspicions of abuse in cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). If the manner of death is ruled a homicide, the Forensic Pathologist may also be asked to testify at the Grand Jury or in the Court of Common Pleas. Regardless of the manner of death, the Forensic Pathologist may be required to give expert testimony in civil trials and proceedings as to the specific cause of death; for example, wrongful death, auto accident and work-related accidents.
Not all autopsies reveal the cause of death even after the toxicological, microscopic, and police investigations are concluded. These cases are ruled "undetermined" and they are more likely to occur when decomposition removes "vital" clues to the cause of death. Some causes of natural deaths, such as abnormal heart beat, do not leave anatomical clues and may be difficult or impossible to document after death.
The Forensic Pathologists at the Franklin County Coroner’s Office also host medial students and others for teaching purposes. They play a vital role in teaching future pathologists, nurses, various other medical professionals, and law enforcement officers.