Unit of Forensic Medicine (UMF)
The UMF, at the request of the judicial authorities, conducts medico-legal expert evaluations which help to resolve criminal or civil investigations. The UMF is the link connecting the medical field to the legal world.
The UMF also receives special mandates, in particular requests for expert evaluations from third parties (private individuals, lawyers, national and international institutions) or as a result of particular circumstances: identification of victims of major disasters either natural (e.g. landslide, tsunami) or human (e.g. transport accidents, victims of conflict) in origin.
Fields of activity
Its main areas of activity are thanatological examinations (autopsy), clinical evaluations and case assessments. The UMF also fulfils a teaching role at pre- and post-graduate levels and in continuing education for a number of professions (doctors, ambulance men and women, magistrates, lawyers, police officers, etc) and is active in research in the field of forensic medicine.
In terms of prevention and public health, the rapid detection of a toxic substance in the organism (e.g. carbon monoxide) can help to prevent further intoxication. The detection of a hereditary genetic disease in a deceased person makes it possible to screen other family members for the same genetic trait and allows treatment to be put in place.
Staff and intercantonal agreements of collaboration
- The activities of the UMF on the Lausanne site (Canton of Vaud) are carried out under the responsibility of Dr Katarzyna Michaud. The Geneva team meanwhile is led by Dr Tony Fracasso. The unit consists of 15 doctors, nine of whom hold board certification in forensic medicine from the Swiss Medical Association (FMH), and forensic medicine technicians. Forensic dentistry and odontology expertise is provided by an external consultant.
- The UMF includes several disciplines and subdivisions (Laboratory of Forensic histhopathology and immunohistochemistry)
- Since April 2012, under a new agreement with the Canton of Valais, a unit of forensic medicine is now open in Sion (Valais) in the Central Institute which is part of the Health Network of Valais (RSV). Autopsies aside, many of the tasks of a forensic pathology unit are made on site by Dr BettinaSchrag who, while being appointed senior physician at the Hospital of Sion, remains affiliated to the CURML.
- In the Canton of Neuchâtel, the CURML has worked for over 20 years with a forensic pathologist, Dr.Rolf Jeanmonod, established in the town of Neuchâtel. All autopsies are performed at the CURML, site of Lausanne.
- Following a new agreement, all the scene investigations of the Canton of Fribourg are performed by forensic pathologists of the CURML, Lausanne. If required, external examinations are made directly at the Cantonal Hospital of Fribourg, all autopsies are performed at the CURML, site of Lausanne.
- Several medical doctors of the canton of Ticino were trained for crime scene investigations by forensic pathologists of the CURML.
The UMF also welcomes trainees for varying lengths of time, particularly students of medicine and foreign doctors specializing in forensic medicine.
Main medico-legal activities
- Scene investigation: at the request of judicial authorities in the event of a homicide or of a suspicious death (death by violence or of indeterminate origin), the forensic doctor carries out a complete and thorough death scene investigation. There he or she records all useful parameters (temperature, lividity, rigidity) to estimate the time of death and establish the causes and circumstances of death. To estimate the time elapsed since death, recourse to forensic entomology is sometimes necessary. The body is then taken to the University Centre of Legal Medicine for further examination.
- External examination: the forensic expert examines the clothing and body of the victim. He or she searches for traces of injury or lesions, to determine the causes and circumstances of death. If necessary, imaging examinations (CT-Scan, MRI) are performed by the Unit of Forensic Imaging and Anthropology (UIAF). A report is then drawn up for the relevant administration, in most cases the judicial authorities.
- Autopsy: the forensic expert carries out an external examination and, after imaging investigations (CT-Scan and MRI) performed by the UIAF, proceeds with a dissection and in-depth macro- and microscopic (histology) examination of the viscera and tissue in order to determine the causes of death. Samples of different biological liquids and tissues are also taken for toxicological, biochemical, genetic, virological or microbiological analyses. According to the indications and after the imaging investigations (UIAF), a postmortem angiography, with injection of radiocontrast agents, is carried out within the framework of the concept Virtangio ®. The imaging investigations complete the autopsy and allows the visualization of the vessels of the whole body. A report is then drawn up for the relevant administration, in most cases the judicial authorities.
- Identification: in situations where the body cannot be identified visually (advanced degradation of the cadaver, carbonized body, very extensive traumatic lesions) or through fingerprints (taken by the police), the forensic expert may need to proceed with a medico-legal identification by means of a comparative dental examination, an examination of the ante-mortem medical file or forensic genetic analyses.
- Clinical evaluations (examination of a living person): At the request of the judicial authorities and in consent with the person concerned, the forensic expert examines the victims of violence or the presumed perpetrators of a crime in order to detect and describe any lesions present on the body and subsequently interpret them. The forensic expert then drafts a report for the judicial authorities.
- Special and case-based evaluations: these may take different forms; the following is a non-exhaustive list:
- Presence of alcohol in the blood: estimate of the level of alcohol in the blood at the time of a road traffic accident or other event
- Evaluation of medical treatment: determine whether or not the latter was adequate and carried out in accordance with standard practice. This evaluation may be carried out in collaboration with one or more co-experts in the field concerned
- Evaluation of risk to life: determine if certain lesions presented by an individual were capable of endangering their life
- Interpretation of lesions on photographs, based on the medical certificate and case files
- Examination of remains: determine if the remains are human. Estimate the sex, age and time elapsed since death of human remains
- Estimation of biological age
- Participation in reconstructions
- Scene (crime) investigation
- Court testimony in criminal and civil law proceedings
- Autopsy room with an operating microscope
- Optical microscops
- CT-Scan and MRI investigations are carried out by the UIAF unit.
Reconstruction of a crime scene (doc: CEMCAV-CHUV, P. Dutoit)
Estimation of the heart weight
Valid from May 1st
A small calculator has been designed to estimate the heart weight (reference upcoming). The calculator was developed in PHP/HTML5 in order to work on the latest web browsers and most smartphones and tablets.