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The term ‘Autopsy’ originates from ancient ‘Autopsia’ which is derived from ‘Autos’ i.e. ‘Oneself’ and ‘Opsis’ i.e. ‘to see for oneself’. An autopsy is frequently done in cases of sudden death where a doctor is not able to give a death certificate or when death is believed due to an unnatural cause . Section 174 and 176 Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.) mention the concept of a medico-legal autopsy during the investigations of a sudden, suspicious, unnatural death . The objective of medicolegal post-mortem examination is to establish the identity of a body, when not known; to ascertain the time since death and the cause of death; and whether the death was natural or unnatural and if unnatural, whether it was homicidal, suicidal or accidental. In case of new born infants, the question of live birth and viability assume importance and should be determined . The term “postmortem examination” is often used as a simile for “autopsy.” Basically, it is not . A postmortem examination means only what it says that the body was examined after death. It can mean and often does mean that the physician merely looked at the body, fully clothed, or that he “viewed” the body at a funeral home or in a morgue. A complete autopsy involves opening all body cavities and all organs of the trunk, chest, and head .
PURPOSE OF MEDICO-LEGAL AUTOPSY
Purpose of postmortem examination in a particular case of unnatural or suspicious death is to find out the following : –
THE MEDICO-LEGAL AUTOPSY
There is no clear idea in the minds of many, including professionals such as lawyers, doctors and police officers, as to the objective of a medico-legal autopsy. The general belief is that a postmortem examination is conducted to ascertain the cause of death only. Thus, when a person dies of a head injury following a vehicular accident, a question is often raised as to the need for an autopsy, as the cause of death is already known. The fact is that in quite a number of medico-legal postmortem examinations, the cause of death is already known. It is mostly in natural sudden deaths where the cause of death is usually not known or not certain prior to autopsy. A pathologist who conducts a medico-legal postmortem examination aims at the following, besides ascertaining or confirming the cause of death 
SOCIAL BENEFITS OF AUTOPSIES
The wealth of knowledge acquired in the course of postmortem investigations not only contributes towards a more accurate database of all forms of mortality but also towards the introduction of measures to prevent them or to reduce their incidence. Many safety devices that are in use today such as seat belts, high back seats with head rests, crash helmets and so on are the result of these examinations. Innovations in automobile designs such as the laminated windscreen, padded dashboard, collapsible steering column, anti-burst doors, buried door handles, all have basis in these studies. Postmortem examinations of victims of bums and other forms of home accidents have contributed greatly towards designing safer buildings. Accurate statistics of disease patterns and deaths help to formulate a more effective and efficient health care system. Equally important are the investigations of crimes which not only help to apprehend the criminals but may also serve to protect the innocent who have been wrongly implicated .
RESOLVING MEDICO-LEGAL ISSUES
Pathologists are well aware of minor trauma sometimes leading to death either immediately or shortly after. Careful examination of such cases may reveal some other underlying conditions, such as an existing disease or a vascular abnormality that had contributed to or aggravated the death. A punch on the front of the chest may kill a person who is suffering from advanced coronary artery disease, and this can only be established by a postmortem examination. It is a well-established fact that alcohol and drugs have not only contributed to all types of accidents but even to death. A body lying on a rail tract or a highway with injuries does not necessarily mean that the victim had died of an accident. A body found burnt inside a building does not always mean that the death was due to bums.” The following example illustrates the need for a postmortem examination in road accidents. A private bus crashed into a tree in the night. The occupants consisted of the driver, conductor and a few passengers. The conductor died as a result of the accident while the others survived. At autopsy, the distribution and pattern of injuries found on the conductor suggested that he was actually driving the vehicle, and without a seat belt as well. In addition he had alcohol in his blood, which was above the legal limit. On the other hand, the injuries found on the driver who survived were that of an unrestrained front seat passenger. It became evident that the actual person who drove the bus at the time of the accident was the conductor. A cover up story had been made by interested parties because the conductor, who actually drove the bus, not only did not possess a driving license but had consumed alcohol. These facts when made known would naturally interfere with the insurance payment. The fact that a seat belt was not used also result in reduced insurance payment as it could be considered as contributory negligence .
FACTORS AFFECTING MEDICO-LEGAL PERFORMANCE
The medico legal work these days like modern day life is very much complicated. Disputing a scientifically correct but unfavorable report has become a part and parcel of the medico legal culture. Trend to get the medico legal results hurriedly in a desired fashion that too authoritatively, is as common as it is to reject an unfavorable opinion. The medico-social issues related to medico-legal performance include :
RULES OF MEDICOLEGAL AUTOPSY IN INDIA
CONTENTS OF POST MORTEM REPORT
Postmortem re-examination or second autopsy of a dead body at times may be required under certain circumstances before cremation or after exhumation. The interpretation of the findings of a second autopsy, performed on a previously autopsied body, is not an easy task for the autopsy surgeon due to various artifacts and alterations resulting from the first autopsy and it is usually demanded or ordered under public cry or political overtones .
Mahipal Singh Sankhla, M.Sc. Forensic Science. He is intern at Forensic Research & Development Cell at Legal Desire Media and Publications