A team at the university of Zurich, Switzerland are pioneering a new way of performing autopsies. It’s known as a digital postmortem, or virtopsy. Although this is an exciting development, there are no plans to do away with the material scalpel just yet.
Michael Thali from the university said, “It’s not replacing the instrument, it’s really the added value or the quality improvement in forensics in general. At the moment we cannot replace the autopsy in every case; that’s absolutely clear. But to be honest, we have to say that the autopsy is not the gold standard in the field anymore. Some image techniques are better to see some findings in the body than the classical autopsy.”
Virtopsies use a multitude of technology. There’s magnetic resonance imaging, which uses images of soft tissues, CT or computer-tomography, an x-ray that slices the body into sections, and 3D scanning which renders surface detail in high resolution. “What you get is a 3D digital model of the body in question, inside and out.”
Wolf Schweitzer, a forensic pathologist at the university said, “As a forensic pathologist, you not only want to see the things you can obviously see with your eyes, but with these tools you can document things that we cannot see that well. That means we can now see air or gas, we can see gas distributions in the body, we can see foreign bodies like scattered metal fragments or glass fragments. We can also document pathologies that otherwise we would just cut through.”
The victim’s body acts as a crime scene, and virtopsy allows you to move tread lightly through that crime scene, observing damage while preserving evidence. In a multiple stabbing victim for example, you can pursue investigations from many different angles. If the person performing the autopsy is trying to ascertain how long the blade of a knife was, it is much easier to be able to “scroll through” a 3D autopsy model than perform a traditional postmortem.
Patricia Flach, a virtopsy specialist said, “It’s important because once you’ve found the crime tool, you can take DNA(samples) and convict the suspect.”
Autopsies are where medicine and the law cross paths, but they’re also emotionally charged for the families and friends involved with the victim. There is many times a desire to preserve the integrity of the body that is left to them, and the development of the virtopsy will help them do that exactly.
Source: BBC News