FORENSIC MEDICINE: THE STORY, CLINICAL NEXUS AND CHALLENGES OF THE PRACTICE IN NIGERIA
The synonym of forensic medicine is forensic pathology1,2. Also called legal medicine or medical jurisprudence3. Forensic medicine is a field that involves collection and analysis of medical evidence (samples) to produce objective information for use in the legal system2,3. It can therefore be aptly summed as the science that deals with the application of medical knowledge to legal questions. It is also extremely useful in cases where a patient dies without having made a definitive diagnosis2. The primary tool of forensic medicine has always been the autopsy2. Frequently used for identification of the dead, autopsies may also be conducted to determine the cause of death2. 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 crash4. In cause-of- death determinations, forensic pathologists can also significantly affect the outcome of trials dealing with insurance and inheritance5. Though the autopsy is performed by a forensic pathologist or a medical examiner, particularly during the investigation of criminal law cases and civil law cases in some jurisdictions2, Coroners and medical examiners are also frequently asked to confirm the identity of a
corpse. The scope of modern day forensic medicine has expanded far beyond autopsies to
include exciting subjects of anthropology; forensic odontology; forensic entomology; ballistics, fingerprint, crime scene and blood spatter analysis; toxicology; DNA; arson and fire investigation; evaluation of the sexual assault victim; forensic psychiatry (which is used to determine the mental health of an individual about to stand trial, and thus, his blameworthiness) and more1,2. It is therefore instructive that the forensic medical services cut across all specialities of medicine with the primary areas of medicine that are commonly involved and harnessed in forensic medicine practice being anatomy, pathology, and psychiatry.
To render efficient and effective forensic services in any setting, the forensic pathologist works with a number of support staff including: accident scene investigator; autopsy technician; coroner; forensic investigator; legal consultant; trauma, emergency medicine or psychiatric nurse; sexual assault nurse examiner; social services investigator and/or advocate and more2 .