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The Needs & The Importance Of Post Mortem Examination

Introduction to Forensic Medicine

Forensic Medicine is that branch of medicine that interprets and establishes the medical facts in civil or criminal law cases. It is a specialized field in medicine that utilize principles of medicine and medical sciences to assist the legal authorities in the adjudication of justice. The scope of service is to provide forensic medical expertise which covers forensic pathology and clinical forensic medicine. It is also known as medical jurisprudence or legal medicine.

Forensic medicine is the application of medical science to legal problems, a field of knowledge by which the facts, knowledge and medical skills are assimilated to assist the authorities in solving death cases where legal processes are concerned. This medical discipline may facilitate the respective parties to grasp the real picture of an incident of crime which later helps the legislative bodies and the courts of law to reach an equitable decision upon criminals and victims. In addition, information and details obtained from this process of knowledge can be utilized in insurance, particularly life insurance and ‘takaful’ related matters.

Role of Forensic Medicine

Forensic Medicine services in the Ministry of Health Malaysia are led by the National Institute of Forensic Medicine also known as Institut Perubatan Forensik Negara (IPFN) based in Hospital Kuala Lumpur. This institution, regionalized throughout Malaysia including the states of Sabah and Sarawak carries out the responsibilities of providing forensic pathology, clinical forensic and forensic science services. The services provided are as follows:

1. Forensic Pathology / Post Mortem Examination

Figure 1 : View of a modern post mortem examination room with personnel preparing the necessary equipments

Post mortem examination on the body / body remains shall be conducted when necessary – based on the grounding that there is a directive from the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM). Post mortem examination will only be carried out after the ‘Borang Polis 61’ – Request for Body Examination’ is issued by the police Investigating Officer. This examination covers not only the internal examination of the body, but occasionally involves solely external examination of the body (dissections of the body is not required).

Post mortem examination will be conducted by those officers specifically trained in the field of Forensic Medicine. Normally, when a post mortem examination is on-going, a Forensic Pathologist will front the session, assisted by a trained Medical Officer, Medical Assistant and Health Care Assistants. The police Investigating Officer and the respective staff should also be present during a Post Mortem Examination.

Among the purposes of post mortem examinations are:

  • to identify the deceased (race, gender, etc.)
  • to estimate the time since death
  • to identify and to document the circumstances leading to death (nature of physical injuries)
  • to determine the cause of death, i.e. criminal act or natural death
  • to determine any influence of drugs or poisons prior to death

*quoted from Saukko & Knight, 2004

The process of post mortem examination will be conducted carefully and in accordance to the provided guidelines in order to ensure that it is carried our professionally, impartially and within the jurisdiction of the law and religion.

2. Clinical Forensic Medicine

Figure 2 : View of body freezers for storage of bodies

Clinical Forensic Medicine is the forensic examinations of the living victims, suspects of crimes and detainees. It includes the medical examination on the sexually assaulted victims in cases like rape, sodomy, molestation etc. It is carried out by a specialist with the assistance of medical officers and other staff with goal to ascertain the occurrence of incidence as well as to aid the authorities in identifying the criminal through statements, complaints, and evidence (biological and physical) taken from the victim.

3. Forensic Science

Forensic Science Services provides laboratory examinations and analyses of the evidence or biological samples collected from the deceased person or victim (blood, urine, organs/tissues etc.) for the purpose of identifying the chemical substances or to detect any biochemical and pathological indicators present in the body of the deceased before, during or after death.

Among analyses conducted are toxicology (analysis of poisons and dangerous chemical substances), anthropology (analysis of bones and remains), histopathology (analysis of tissues / organs) and entomology (analysis of insects).

Figure 3 : A forensic scientist is conducting sample preparation prior laboratory analysis.

The needs and importance of post mortem examination

There are several medico-legal issues justify the need for post mortem examinations when death occurs.

  • Post mortem examination is important in order to ensure that justice is served in respect of the deceased, the accused, the next of keen, and the respective insurance companies.
  • It is important as a tool to establish the cause of death and to determine the contributing factors.
  • Post mortem examination does not only serve as tool to identify a criminal, but it may also exempt a suspect or an accused from criminal involvement.
  • All data and results obtained from post mortem examinations can also be used in policy making and preventive measures such as reducing the risk of road traffic accident related deaths, workplace related accidents and so on.

Post mortem examination according to Islamic perspectives

When discussing the issue of post mortem examinations and its relationship to Islam, critical approach is applied by the ‘ulama’ and Islamic scholars throughout the world. Dissecting a deceased body is prohibited (haram) based on the original Islamic law. However, in any circumstances where it is highly demanded and necessary (referred as ‘dharuriyyat’), post mortem examination is permissible where limitations are drawn; post mortem is conducted for its sole purpose, and the deceased body shall not be treated in such manner that subjects the body to harm or disrespect.

It has been drawn by the National Fatwa Council in 1989 as follows:

“Dissection of a deceased Muslim can only be conducted if the situation highly demands the procedures (‘dharurat’) such as criminal cases in which post mortem is highly necessary, or in a circumstance where the deceased had swallowed valuable items, or the deceased was pregnant with her fetus is still alive” ( Jakim, 2011).

Therefore, based on the ‘fatwa’ from Ulama’ and Islamic scholars, post mortem examination on the deceased is allowed for the purposes as discussed in No. 3 above. Furthermore, it must comply with the standard guidelines as stated by the Ministry of Health Malaysia where ethical conducts and the sense of respect to the deceased must be taken into account while conducting post mortem examinations.

Last Reviewed : 23 Ogos 2019
Writer / Translator : Khairul Adli b. Nikman
Accreditor : Dr. Mohd Shah bin Mahmood
Reviewer : Dr. Khoo Lay See