Unit of Forensic Medicine

Unit Presentation Research and Training FAQ


Our services Who can request them ?
  Scene investigation
 (on-site examination before removal of bodies)
  Judicial authorities
  Autopsies   Judicial authorities, Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, NGOs, private individuals
  External examinations   Judicial authorities, Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, NGOs, private individuals
  Clinical examinations   Judicial authorities, Maternity (Geneva), NGOs, private individuals
  Forensic casework   Examining magistrates, NGOs, private individuals
  Major disasters   Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)
  Reconstructions   Judicial authorities
  Court experts   Presiding Judge

Main forensic activities

Removal of the body: at the request of the judicial authorities, in the case of a homicide or a death considered suspicious (violent death or of undetermined origin), the forensic pathologist goes to the place where the body was found. There, he or she records all useful parameters (ambient and rectal temperature, presence of lividity, degree of rigor mortis, presence of conjunctival petechiae) to estimate the time of death and establish the causes and circumstances of death. To estimate the postmortem interval, it is sometimes necessary to use forensic entomology. The analyses performed in this context provide original data for the calculation of the postmortem interval. The body is then transported to the Centre universitaire romand de médecine légale for various examinations.

  • External examination: The forensic doctor examines the clothing and the body of the victim. He or she looks for signs of injuries, describes the presence of lividity, and assesses rigidity to determine the cause and circumstances of death. Imaging investigations (CT-Scan, MRI) can be used to complete these examinations. He then writes a report for the principal, usually the judicial authorities.
  • Autopsy: the forensic doctor performs an external examination, then proceeds, after analysis of the images obtained by the forensic imaging and anthropology unit (UIAF) (native CT-Scan, angio-CT, MRI), to an opening of the body, followed by a thorough macro- and microscopic examination (histology) of the viscera and tissues, in order to search for the cause of death. He also takes samples of various biological fluids and tissues for possible toxicological, biochemical, genetic, microbiological or virological examinations. He then writes a report for the principal, usually the judicial authorities.
  • Histological examinations: these are microscopic examinations of organ fragments taken during the autopsy. The purpose of these examinations is to investigate or clarify the cause of death, but also to answer several other forensic questions. The results of the histological examinations, performed by the medical examiner in charge of the case, and sometimes supplemented by immunohistochemical examinations, are described in the autopsy report, of which they are an integral part. Samples for histological and/or immunohistochemical examinations are processed and prepared by the Forensic Histopathology Laboratory of the CURML, which thus represents the technical platform for all activities of the CURML autopsy routine. The Forensic Histopathology Laboratory of the CURML also provides services in the context of routine activities, academic research and scientific collaborations with other Swiss and/or foreign academic institutions. (Catalogue of services of the Forensic Histopathology Laboratory of the CURML).
  • Identification: in situations where the body could not be recognized visually (advanced cadaveric alteration, charred body, extensive traumatic lesions) or with the help of fingerprints (taken by the police), the forensic pathologist may have to proceed to a forensic identification by means of a comparative dental examination, an examination of the ante-mortem medical file or by forensic genetic analyses.
  • Clinical examinations (examination of a living person): at the request of the judicial authorities and with the consent of the person concerned, the forensic doctor examines victims of violence or alleged perpetrators of a crime, in order to detect and describe any lesions present on the body and to interpret them. The forensic pathologist then prepares a report for the judicial authorities.
  • There are different types of forensic examinations, of which the following is a non-exhaustive list:
    • Alcohol expertise: estimation of the alcohol level at the time of a traffic accident or any other event
    • Evaluation of medical treatment: to determine if the treatment was adequate and carried out according to the rules of the art. This assessment can be carried out with the collaboration of one or more co-experts in the field concerned
    • Evaluation of a life-threatening situation: to determine if certain lesions presented by an individual could have endangered his life or not
    • Interpretation of lesions on photographs, from medical certificate and investigation file
    • Examination of bones: determine if they are human bones. Estimate the sex, age and post-mortem time of human bones
    • Estimating age
    • Participation in reconstructions
    • Visiting the scene
    • Testify in court as an expert