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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Early History of Forensic Medicine

     The ancient Romans knew a surprising amount about crime and medicine. The physician Antistius examined the assassinated Julius Caesar and concluded that of the twenty-three stab wounds, only the chest wound had been mortal. The French surgeon Ambroise Pare (c 1510-90), the father of modern surgery, studied the effects of violence on the vital human organs. In Palermo, Fortunato Fidelis discovered how to tell an accidental drowning from one caused deliberately. In Rome, Paolo Zacchia studied bullet wounds, cuts and stab wounds, stranglings and infanticide, and understood how to tell suicide from murder.

     In the late seventeenth century, the Italian anatomist Morgagni compared changes in the organs of the dead with the symptoms of the diseases that had killed them, so laying the foundations of the science of pathology. The microscope, invented around this time, enjoyed a forensic flowering in the nineteenth century, although the medical establishment took a skeptical view of such pioneers as Johann Ludwig Casper who produced his principal handbook of forensic medicine in 1856.

     Yet despite huge strides in the progress of Victorian medicine, the profession itself seemed dogged by taint. The public, marvelling at such achievements as the steam engine and electric telegraph, was impatient for similar life enhancement from the men of medicine. By mid-century, the doctors had yet to produce any.

Roger Wilkes, ed, The Mammoth Book of Murder and Science, 2000

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