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8 Facts and Trivia About Autopsies

There is evidence that autopsies were used to open up the body to determine the cause of death as early as the third millennium BC. Not only does an autopsy indicates the cause of death, but also becomes an important part in criminal investigations. In this article, you will encounter facts and trivia concerning the history of the autopsy.

1.    Some civilizations fully opened up the body, while others (like the ancient Egyptians) chose to remove organs through tiny slits in the body so that disfigurement of the deceased did not hinder their entry into the afterlife.

2.    During ancient Greek days, autopsies were a rare occurrence. However, history shows that there were a few notable figures that performed autopsies in Alexandria during 3rd century BC.  Erasistratus was a Greek anatomist and royal physician who worked when Seleucus I Nicator was in power of Syria. It was he who made great strides in giving the first in-depth descriptions of the cerebrum and cerebellum. Herophilus of Chalcedon was a Greek physician who spent most of his life in Alexandria. He is credited as the first scientist to systematically perform scientific dissections of human cadavers. In fact, he is often referred to as the first anatomist in history.

3.    Julius Caesar received an official autopsy in 44 BC after rival senators killed him. In the physician’s report, it was noted that the second stab wound that he received was the one that took his life. It wasn’t until about 150 BC that ancient Roman legal practice had established rules on how autopsies would be performed.

4.    Arab physicians Avenzoar and Ibn al-Nafis are also known in history to have used the dissection of human remains for medical reasons. For example, during his time, Avenzoar came from a long line of physicians and was the first to perform dissections and postmortem autopsies on humans, as well as animals.

5.    The modern practice of performing an autopsy comes from the techniques and process embraced during the Renaissance.

6.    One of the first publications that addressed the techniques used in autopsies was written by Giovanni Morgagni (1682,1771), who earned the nickname as the “father of anatomical pathology.” He wrote the De Sedibus et Causis Morborum per Anatomen Indagatis (which translates into “The Seats and Causes of Diseases Investigated by Anatomy” in 1769.

7.    There are three main kinds of autopsies to consider. The Medico-Legal Autopsy (also known as the Forensic or coroner’s autopsy) is used to find the cause and manner of death. Sometimes, it is used to learn the identity of a dead body. They are commonly performed in times of violence, suspicious or sudden deaths. A clinical or pathological autopsy is performed when one wishes to diagnose a disease or conduct research. They wish to reveal information that may help pinpoint how a person died. Students of anatomy will use cadavers to learn about medicine. They perform what is called an anatomical or academic autopsy.

8.    During a forensic autopsy, the cause of death is sought after. The approach behind this kind of autopsy is that scientific assessments are used to answer questions that may be of some help to legal parties. In the United States, deaths are placed into five different categories: natural, accident, homicide, suicide, and undetermined.