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Forensic Duties of a Medical Examiner

Part of the Forensics For Dummies Cheat Sheet

In the case of murder, the medical examiner (ME) may be the person who puts forensics to its purest use. An ME uses science to determine the cause, mechanism, and manner of death to help the investigation and solution of a murder. The ME determines

  • Cause of Death: What disease or trauma directly caused the victim’s death. Examples may be a heart attack, a gunshot wound to the head, or a drug overdose.

  • Mechanism of Death: What specific physiological effect of the cause of death actually led to the cessation of life. For example, a heart attack victim could die from a deadly change in heart rhythm or from severe damage to the heart muscle, leading to shock. Here the cause of death is a heart attack, but the mechanism is a cardiac arrhythmia or cardiogenic shock, respectively.

  • Manner of Death: How the cause of death came about. The five manners of death are: natural, accidental, suicidal, homicidal, and undetermined. A gunshot wound (the cause of death) may have been accidental, suicidal, or homicidal, for example. Only deaths from disease are natural.

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Forensics For Dummies Cheat Sheet

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