Examining the Pros and Cons of Digital Autopsies

Can you really replace a scalpel with a scanner? Many think so, thereby giving digital autopsies quite a bit of attention as of late.

Welcome to the Future of Autopsies

Although the technology is still relatively new, many entrepreneurs are getting in on the digital autopsy market, opening up digital autopsy facilities around the world. Along with the close oversight of local authorities, for example, one entrepreneur in Britain is opening up his first of 18 digital autopsy facilities, which he says will speed up investigations, ease the mind of grieving families, and appease religious beliefs.

Through specialized imaging software that provides users with 3D images, as well as the use of an MRI or CT machine, medical examiners are able to thoroughly examine a cadaver without just a click of a mouse.

Digital autopsies, of course, can be saved for review at any time, and they are likely able to identify everything from foreign objects in the body to fractures and wounds, all without having to cut open the body.

Although radiology on skulls have been used for more than 30 years now, it was the military that first started using CT scans on soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004. More recent tests using digital autopsy were conducted by the University College London, who found that minimally invasive autopsies combined with an MRI scan on cadavers of individuals 16 years old and younger identified the same cause of death as traditional autopsies 90 percent of the time.

But are digital autopsies ready for their close-up?

Not everyone thinks that digital autopsies are as reliable as traditional autopsies, particularly in instances of disease-related deaths. Many forensic pathologists recognize a number of limits on what a digital autopsy can do, such as determining where and when a patient died.

As such, these professionals urge a more cautious approach to this new technology. They are also looking into combining it with a number of other minimally invasive tools, such as toxicology and angiography.