Forensic pathology is a subspecialty of pathology concerned with determining the cause of death in people who die in uncertain or traumatic circumstances. Forensic pathologists perform autopsies, which are thorough physical examinations of the deceased that may reveal evidence as to how death occurred.
Autopsies begin by assessing external injuries and physical appearance, including hair, skin, and nails. Certain items may be collected as criminal evidence or for further testing. Subsequently, laboratory tests are performed on blood, liver, and other organ samples to detect the presence of substances or toxins. Tissue specimens are observed under a microscope. Forensic pathologists also look for underlying medical conditions and other irregularities. If there is a limited amount of body tissue, a forensic pathologist may study decomposition patterns, bones, or other remains.
Forensic pathologists compile autopsy data and photos into official autopsy reports, which may present a probable cause of death. Forensic pathologists may be solicited to explain an autopsy report in an investigation, or subpoenaed to testify in court. Forensic pathologists may work alongside medical examiners, coroners, radiologists, law enforcement officers, and forensic anthropologists to estimate the sequence of events that led to death.