Bodily signs and case history in Indian morgues: what makes a medico-legal autopsy complete?

in Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal

In contemporary forensic medicine, in India, the label of complete autopsy applies to a whole range of post-mortem examinations which can present consid- erable differences in view of the intellectual resources, time, personnel and material means they involve. From various sources available in India and elsewhere, stems the idea that, whatever the type of case and its apparent obviousness, a complete autopsy implies opening the abdomen, the thorax and the skull and dissecting the organs they contain. Since the nineteenth century, procedural approaches of complete autopsies have competed with a practical sense of completeness which requires doctors to think their cases according to their history. Relying on two case studies observed in the frame of an ethnographic study of eleven months in medical colleges of North India, the article suggests that the practical completeness of autopsies is attained when all aspects of the history of the case are made sense of with regard to the observation of the body. Whereas certain autopsies are considered obvious and imply a reduced amount of time in the autopsy room, certain others imply successive redefinitions of what complete implies and the realisation of certain actions which would not have been performed otherwise.

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