, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 135-137
Date: 05 Nov 2012

The challenges presented by decomposition

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A feature of forensic practice that is often remarked upon by non-pathologists is the requirement to sometimes undertake examinations of bodies that have undergone considerable changes due to decomposition. The value of such an exercise is sometimes questioned. The following editorial reviews issues that may arise in the postmortem evaluation of such cases based on studies and observations that the authors have undertaken and made over time.

Decomposition refers to the variety of processes of degradation that commence as soon as an organism has died. The combined effects of putrefaction from bacterial overgrowth, and autolysis from tissue self-digestion, result in a predictable sequence of events commencing with venous marbling and blistering of the skin, followed by purging of fluids through the mouth and nose, gaseous distention of subcutaneous tissues and body cavities, and insect colonization. Under specific circumstances less common changes such as mummification or adipocere (“grav ...