I was struck by a death investigator’s remark because it seemed to echo our care in forensic work to avoid any perception of bias. I wondered, does a medical examiner need to be on guard investigating death? Like, is there sometimes pressure to lean one way or the other in their findings?
Now, a few days later, I’m thinking the death investigator was referring to the pressure to work fast.
I was touring the medical examiner services facility in Halifax and also took in a talk by Dr. Eveline Gallant, one of the examiners. This is where medical examiners do autopsies to determine the cause and manner of death after examining a body at the scene.
Examiners can do four autopsies at a time at this facility, one of the best in the country, I understand. The facility also has a restful place for the examiners considering the work they do and the way they get their hands dirty and blood on their boots. They also have a comfortable room for the family of the dead.
The fact there must be a capability to do four autopsies at the same time makes me think there’s a time-pressure on an examiner.
My tour was in connection with work I do for the Halifax Regional Police Victim Services unit. I was one of a number on the tour that included RCMP officers as well.
Dr. Gallant’s power point was excellent. Good graphics and good fill-in comment by Eveline. At one point I was struck by something she said to the effect, “We answer to no one when investigating death”, prompting this short blog. The thorough pursuit of the cause and manner of death is what it’s all about. I’m thinking now she and her colleagues push back against the pressure of time.
(I did a tiny bit of push-back myself recently in a case I’ve got providing expert services in a dispute involving a structure and a looming court date, and my well informed client understood when I explained) .
I thought, how Dr. Gallant’s understanding of the way it must be in her work was like the charge to an expert to serve the court thoroughly and objectively.
Another comment by Dr. Gallant resonated with me, “100% certainty is not necessary in death determination.” That is also true in forensic work. We often deal with messy nature and the answers are less than 100% certain. .
Also, I noted how the many specialists a medical examiner like Eveline must rely on at times echos the many a forensic engineer must call on. The two of us in our respective fields know quite a lot, including not forgetting we are principal investigators who call on other specialists when required – we don’t know everything.
I think death investigators and forensic engineers also know – while mindful of the time constraints on our associates and clients – that investigations can’t be hurried.
Death investigation is a lot like forensic investigation as I learned during Dr. Gallant’s remarks and her guided tour, right down to being careful of perceived bias. Actually, right down to the fact we’re both investigating a problem with a structure in the built environment – the one, a body structure and the other, for example, a building structure.
- Gallant, Eveline, MD, Lecture and Tour: Death Investigation at the Medical Examiner’s Facility, Halifax 2019
- Siegel, Jay A., Forensic Science, the Basics, 2nd ed., Chap. 10, Forensic Pathology, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida 2010
- Cooper, Chris, Eye Witness Forensic Science, DK Publishing, New York 2008