Medical Views

Medicine and law overlap in a death investigation calling for an autopsy to determine the manner and cause of death. Listen to two chief medical examiners talk about their work and careers. Explore the medico-legal autopsy procedures, and find out what virtual autopsy is all about!

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Medical examiners

Pathologists—medical doctors who specialize in anatomical or functional abnormalities of a human body—with a special forensic training work as medical examiners and conduct medico-legal autopsies. Meet Drs. Marcela Fierro and David Fowler, who speak about their career and experiences as the chief medical examiners of Virginia and Maryland, respectively.

Video Icon Becoming a chief medical examiner

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Video Icon Critical skills for medical examiners

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Video Icon Working with families

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Autopsy

Explore the purposes of a medico-legal autopsy and learn about select autopsy pathologies from the two chief medical examiners' perspectives.

Autopsy overview

Why and how is an autopsy performed? Find out from the experts the general autopsy procedure and its purpose.

Video Icon General autopsy procedure

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Video Icon Purpose & criteria for a medico-legal autopsy

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Petechial hemorrhage

Take a close look at these eyes—look at your own to help you compare and note differences. Do you see the tiny red dots on the eye's upper white part and the inside of the eyelid? This condition is called petechial (tiny dots) hemorrhage (bleeding). What does this tell a medical examiner? When, during an autopsy, does a medical examiner find such a condition?

petechial hemorrhage
American Registry of Pathology

Petechial hemorrhage

Video Icon Petechial hemorrhage

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Video Icon Autopsy: external examination

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Polycystic kidney

Here are the cross sections of a healthy kidney and one with adult polycystic kidney disease. Take a closer look at each and note their differences. What is polycystic kidney disease and how does it happen? How and when does a medical examiner examine kidneys during an autopsy?

Normal Kidney crossection
Edward Klatt, M.D.

Normal kidney cross section

Polycystic Kidney cross section
American Registry of Pathology

Polycystic kidney disease

Video Icon Adult polycystic kidney disease

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Video Icon Autopsy: internal in situ examination

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Perforated heart

This heart has a perforated wound caused by a bullet. What does such a wound tell a medical examiner? How and when does she or he examine the heart?

Perforated Heart
D. King, M.D.

Perforated heart

Video Icon Gunshot wound in the heart

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Video Icon Autopsy: organ examination

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Cerebral meningitis

This brain shows an abnormal condition—yellow-tan clouding of the meninges, the three layers of membranes covering the brain—caused by a viral or bacterial infection. What does a medical examiner do with this finding? How does the infection affect people conducting the autopsy?

acute meningitis
Colonel Elizabeth J. Rushing, M.D.

Brain with acute meningitis

Video Icon Fatal cerebral meningitis

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Video Icon Autopsy: brain examination & occupational hazard

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Virtopsy

Find out how high-tech imaging technologies are applied to a medico-legal autopsy in searching for the cause and manner of death.

Video Icon What is virtopsy and what are its benefits?

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A research case

Drs. Richard Dirnhofer and Michael J. Thali and their team of specialists at the University of Bern's Institute of Forensic Medicine in Switzerland use multi-slice computed tomography (MSCT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in comparison with a forensic autopsy to determine how well MSCT and MRI can document and analyze gunshot wounds. Compare the photographic, MRI, and CT images from a case and explore how imaging technology applications may assist and supplement traditional autopsy.

Photograph of an entrance wound
Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern

Photograph of an entrance wound

3D CT surface reconstruction of the face showing a small entrance wound of the right temple (arrow)
Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern

3D CT surface reconstruction of the face showing a small entrance wound of the right temple (arrow)

Coronal CT reformation showing the projectile on the left (arrow)
Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern

Coronal CT reformation showing the projectile on the left (arrow)

MRI cross section showing brain tissue details and the bullet track
Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern

MRI cross section (corresponding to the coronal CT reformation image) showing brain tissue details and the bullet track

Photograph of the brain section showing the bullet track and projectile
Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern

Photograph of the brain section showing the bullet track and projectile

Medical Views is based on the "Autopsy Revealed" multimedia interactive station at the Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body exhibition on display at the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland from February 16, 2006–February 16, 2008. Visitor and guided-tour information is available online at VISIT. If you have questions about visiting Visible Proofs, contact us at NLMExhibition@mail.nih.gov or 301.594.1947.