An autopsy (also called a post-mortem examination or autopsia cadaverum) is a surgical procedure that involves intricate techniques to thoroughly examine the cause and manner of death of a corpse. Sometimes, an examiner will learn that someone has died from an injury or disease, while other times, they can pinpoint whether or not someone was murdered. In this article, you will learn interesting facts and trivia about autopsies.
In many cultures, an autopsy performed on a human was considered an outrage and an early understanding of the human body came from the dissection of animals.
The first institution known to use forensic autopsies was the University of Bologna in Italy, which approved the procedure in the 14th century as a way to settle legal questions regarding a cause of death.
The ancient Romans played an important role in the evolution of the autopsy. It was around 150 BC when ancient Roman legal practice had set clear standards for autopsies. Before then, an official autopsy was performed on the infamous leader Julius Caesar who was assassinated by a group of rival senators in 44 BC. The physician wrote a report that revealed the second stab wound that Caesar received was the one that ultimately took his life.
Autopsies have been performed for a variety of reasons, but in 1533, the Catholic Church ordered one for conjoined twins Joana and Melchiora Ballestero in Hispaniola to determine whether the two shared a soul. The twins’ body was born with two distinct hearts, which ancient Greek philosopher, Emperdocles, believed meant there were two souls involved.
To determine the cause of death of a body, an autopsy is typically performed within 48 hours of the death of an individual.
You’d be surprised at the rate of error associated with an autopsy. In 1912, Richard Cabot (a physician from Boston) spent his time analyzing autopsies and claimed that some diseases were being misdiagnosed at an alarming rate. He believed the number to be as high as 80 percent. A study published in Histopathology in 2005 suggested that doctors continue to misdiagnose deadly diseases about 1/3 of the time. What is more disturbing is that a 1998 study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh claims that in about 2/3s of incorrectly diagnosed cases, the life of the patient could have been saved.
If you were a criminal executed around 1539 in Padua, chances are, you had your body examined in front of a crowd of locals. Paduan judge Marcantonio Contarini grew fascinated with anatomical drawings so much that he pushed for the performance of autopsies on executed criminals. It didn’t take long for the procedure to become the latest trend ”“ so much so that hangings were scheduled around planned autopsies. Special theaters would accommodate those who came to see the live examination.