forensic medicine

forensic medicine
the application of medical knowledge to questions of civil and criminal law, esp. in court proceedings. Also called forensic jurisprudence, legal medicine, medical jurisprudence.

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Science of applying medical knowledge to legal questions, recognized as a specialty since the early 19th century.

Its primary tool has always been the autopsy, to identify the dead (e.g., plane-crash victims) or determine cause of death, which can significantly affect trials dealing with insurance and inheritance. Forensic psychiatry determines the mental health of an individual about to stand trial. Forensic genetics allows paternity to be determined and can identify blood or other tissue samples as coming from a particular person (see DNA fingerprinting). Forensic toxicology, concerned with such topics as intentional poisonings and drug use, is increasingly important in cases of industrial and environmental poisoning.

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      the science that deals with the application of medical knowledge to legal questions.

      The use of medical testimony in law (legal profession) cases predates by more than 1,000 years the first systematic presentation of the subject by the Italian Fortunatus Fidelis in 1598. Forensic medicine was recognized as a specialty early in the 19th century.

      The primary tool of forensic medicine has always been the autopsy (q.v.). Frequently used for identification of the dead, autopsies may also be conducted to determine the cause of death. In cases of death caused by a weapon, for example, the forensic pathologist—by examining the wound—can often provide detailed information about the type of weapon used as well as important contextual information. (In a death by gunshot, for example, he can determine with reasonable accuracy the range and angle of fire.) Forensic medicine is a major factor in the identification of victims of disaster, such as landslide or plane crash. In cause-of-death determinations, forensic pathologists can also significantly affect the outcome of trials dealing with insurance and inheritance.

      In the 19th century, two other forensic specialties arose, namely, forensic psychiatry (which is used to determine the mental health of an individual about to stand trial, and, thus, his blameworthiness) and forensic toxicology. The forensic toxicologist gives evidence on such topics as intentional poisonings and drug use. The toxicologist has played an increasingly important role in matters of industrial and environmental poisoning.

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Universalium. 2010.

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