Comments about forensic pathology from a forensic pathologist

I understand Ed Uthman's viewpoints on forensic pathology. True, there is a lack of formal peer review regarding testimony, opinions, etc., except for that which tends to occur when independent "experts" are called into play to review another forensic pathologist's opinions. Unfortunately, even when an incompetent or dishonest witness is encountered, little is ever done about it by anyone except to move on to the next case(s).

I believe that the major problem is, however, with attorneys, judges, and the legal system. It permits so-called "experts" to testify without having standard definitions of an expert. The "ethics" of the adversary legal system inhibits somewhat open and free discussion and disclosure. Many judges are ill-equipped to determine a witness's expert status. Many attorneys will bad mouth an expert witness and then later use the very same witness when they need him/her. In many cases, transcripts of testimony aren't even available depending on who wins or loses a case, so testimony is difficult to review. You can't plug in a witness name anywhere and find out where or when a given witness testified, let alone what they said. These are weaknesses (intentional, I believe) in the legal process.

The second major problem is funding. Forensic pathology doesn't pay very well. That's one reason why most pathologists are not forensic pathologists. Its also a reason why some forensic pathologists may not be regarded as top-notch pathologists.

Granted, FPs have been slow in developing some sort of "formal" system of quality assurance/improvement. Standards and guidelines have and are being developed, however. A major problem is that the best intended standards and guidelines won't have much effect if the governments that fund forensic pathology operations don't provide enough staffing and funding to meet the provisions of the standards and guidelines. Most FP's don't have the luxury of being absorbed into the hospital, university, or private practice setting where fee-for-service work is more likely to provide funds for such things.

Most legitimate, board certified FPs are well meaning people who work hard and do good work. Our professional organizations do recognize and discuss our problems and are taking steps, albeit gradual, to improve things. I also believe that FP will be, as stated by Wright and Tate, the "Last Stronghold of the Autopsy." The reason -- FPs do autopsies because they like to. Many hospital pathologists do them because they have to.