In part one of Future of Forensics, we introduced you to the virtual autopsy. Now we are reviewing when virtual autopsies would be more beneficial than a traditional autopsy alone. We say “alone” because the virtual autopsy is not meant to replace traditional autopsies, but rather to augment them. Provide more information in a shorter amount of time with the ability to bring in experts from anywhere in the world – this is the virtual autopsy. So, when would it be preferred over a traditional autopsy? Think CSI, but more real.
In our research, we found virtual autopsies can play a vital role in crime solving. This technique is particularly beneficial for reconstruction and visualization of forensic cases, including the opportunity to use the data for expert witness reports. Radiological imaging is a key tool that helps in establishing the manner and cause of death. Furthermore, it avoids the need to physically dissect the corpse allowing the examiners and investigators to discover important clues, more quickly and effectively.1 The saved autopsy scans can be sent to any number of experts anywhere in the world. This all cuts down on time, which is of the essence when investigating crimes. And to have experts at your fingertips who can view the autopsy scans – priceless.
Through virtual autopsies, it is also possible to assess the presence and precise location of foreign bodies, and in cases of gunshot injuries, the identification of the exact location of a bullet/bullets. A virtual autopsy conducted before a traditional autopsy helps to pinpoint the exact location of such projectiles and their fragments, saving much time in its eventual recovery. Virtual autopsy is useful to identify entry and exit bullet holes, as well as the likely trajectory taken by the bullet. The evaluation of the bullet path through the body aids in the reconstruction of the relative positions of the victim and the perpetrator during the alleged incident.2 Radiological imaging is also useful in trauma cases as it can provide an overview of injuries sustained by the victim; detect craniofacial, cerebral, thoracic, and osseous injuries; and suggest putative causes of death. This can reduce the time taken for forensic autopsy and sometimes obviate the need for a forensic autopsy.3
Virtual autopsies can play a critical role in crime investigations, most notably saving time for investigators and forensic pathologists. Stay tuned because part three will be packed with expert analysis of virtual autopsies and current and emerging technologies in forensic pathology. What technologies are currently used? What technologies exist that aren’t being used by all medical examiners, and why aren’t they using them? We answer these questions, and more, in the conclusion of Future of Forensics.
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1 Thali MJ, et al. Virtopsy, a new imaging horizon in forensic pathology: virtual autopsy by postmortem multislice computed tomography (MSCT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)--a feasibility study. J Forensic Sci. 2003 Mar;48(2):386-403. PMID: 12665000.
2 Cirielli V, Cima L, Bortolotti F, et al. Virtual Autopsy as a Screening Test Before Traditional Autopsy: The Verona Experience on 25 Cases. J Pathol Inform. 2018;9:28. Published 2018 Jul 19. doi:10.4103/jpi.jpi_23_18
3 Wagensveld IM, Hunink MGM, Wielopolski PA, et al. Hospital implementation of minimally invasive autopsy: A prospective cohort study of clinical performance and costs. PLoS One. 2019;14(7):e0219291. Published 2019 Jul 16. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0219291