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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Exhumations: synopsis of morphological and toxicological findings in relation to the postmortem interval. Survey on a 20-year period and review of the literature.

Before an exhumation the question of its possible success usually arises. This paper aims to act as an aid by providing comprehensive lists ("expectation catalogues") of morphological and toxicological findings with their corresponding postmortem intervals. All organ systems are included. The results are based on the retrospective evaluation of 46 exhumations performed at the Cologne Institute of Forensic Medicine in a 20-year period (1974-1994) and a review of the literature. In our own material (34 males, 12 females, age range: 2 days-91 years) the postmortem interval varied from 6 days to 20.5 years. Exhumations were performed by order of criminal courts (n = 28), social insurances (n = 13) and private persons (n = 5). Main indications were problems of causality in social and civil law (n = 14), suspected intoxications (n = 10), possible medical malpractice (n = 7), criminal aspects of traffic accidents (n = 7) and identifications (n = 5). The expectation catalogues include the following remarkable items (with postmortem interval) from our own material: coronary thrombosis (3.5 months), granulation tissue in myocardial infarction (3.5 months), myocardial fibrosis (2.5 years), coronary sclerosis (7.5 years), femoral vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism (3.75 months), pneumonia (3 months), pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis (2.5 years); detection of strangulation marks (2 months); preservation of bone marrow histology (3 months), gastrointestinal tract in continuity (7.5 years), macroscopic and histological cerebral structures (17 years); toxicological detection of phenobarbital (6 weeks), CO-Hb (9.5 weeks), chlorprothixene (5.5 years), diazepam (7.5 years), furosemide (7.5 years) and parathion (E 605) (17 years). The cause of death could be clarified with sufficient certainty in 36/46 cases (78%). Exhumation problems could be answered completely in 39 cases and partly in seven further cases. On the whole this review again underlines the importance and value of this special kind of body examination even after long postmortem periods.[1]


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