History of forensic medicine – Medicine and law have been related from the earliest times and the bonds which united them were religion, superstition and magic. Law vs medical problems are found in the written records in Egypt, Sumer, Babylon, India and China dating back 4000 to 3000 B.C.
A Chinese materia medica of about 3000 B .C. gives information on poisons. Imhotep (27th century B.C.), Grand Vizier, Chief Justice and chief physician of King Zoser of Egypt, enacted rules for medical practice, which was brought under law. The Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon (about 2200 B.C.). is the oldest known medico-legal Code in History of forensic medicine.
In fourth century in the History of forensic medicine, B.C., Mann (King and law —giver) in his treatise, Manusmriti, laid down various laws including punishment for various sexual offences, and recognized mental incapacity due to intoxication, illness and age. Between fourth and third century B.C. Arthashastra of Kautilya defined penal laws and regulated medical practice.
Hippocrates (460 to 377 B.C.) in History of forensic medicine, the “Father of Western Medicine” was born and practiced in the island of Kos in Greece, discussed the lethality of wounds. His contribution to medical ethics is by far his greatest in our field. About 300 B.C., the Rabbis of the Rabinical Court, responsible for implementing the Jewish laws, sought the aid of medical expert in the administration of justice.
Later in History of forensic medicine, Greek and Roman jurists and medical men collaborated in the development of its principles. Shushruta (father of Indian surgery), between 200 to 300 A.D. in his treatise, Shushruta Samhita dealt with various medico-legal problems.
In the sixth century A.D. in the History of forensic medicine the Justinian Code (Roman emperor) and Institutes regulated the practice of it and surgery, and established the function of the medical expert for legal procedure. The first medico-legal autopsy was done in Bologna (Italy) in 1302, by Bartolomeo De Varignana.
In the thirteenth century in History of forensic medicine, a manual was prepared to aid in the investigation of death in China. George, Bishop of Bamberg, proclaimed a penal code in 1507, where medical evidence was a necessity in certain cases. Caroline Code was proclaimed in 1553 in Germany by Emperor Charles V.
With this expert medical testimony became a requirement rather than an option to give opinions in cases of murder, wounding, poisoning, hanging, drowning, infanticide and abortion. It recognised that there were several types of homicide which were not punishable under certain conditions, one of which was an offender who was ‘deprived of his understanding’.
The first book in the History of forensic medicine was published in 1602 by an Italian physician, Fortunato Fedele. The greatest of all works was the Questiones Medicolegales’ (medicolegal questions), written by Paulus Zacchias, who was principal physician to Pope Innocent X, and Alexander VII, and an expert before the Rota Romana, the Court of Appeal.
This was published in seven volumes from 1621 to 1635 and two additional volumes in 1666, at Amsterdam. This work remained an authority in History of forensic medicine in medico-legal matters until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Paulus Zacchias is considered the Father of Legal Medicine as well as Father of Forensic Psychiatry.
In Questiones Medicolegales in History of forensic medicine, he declared that physicians should have exclusive competence in the field of pathological mental states, amentias. He provided a classification of mental disorders keeping in mind the legal issues at that time. Around the end of the sixteenth century, autopsies in medico-legal cases began to he generally practiced.
In the eighteenth century of History of forensic medicine, professorships in legal medicine were founded by the State in Germany. Orfila (1787 to 1853), professor of chemistry and legal medicine at Paris introduced precise chemical methods into toxicology. He is considered the founder of modern toxicology. In 1843, the law regarding the criminal responsibility of insane persons was established in England in Mc Naughten’s case.