chapter  6
26 Pages

Twentieth-century developments in forensic medicine and science

Previous chapters have demonstrated the pace at which forensic medicine developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: professional ambitions and intellectual advancements, especially in toxicology and psychiatry, led to the emergence of the modern expert witness, an individual who was increasingly likely to be employed by one of the growing number of universities, asylums, hospitals, laboratories and, on the Continent, medico-legal institutions that sprang up during the period. However, at the fin-de-siècle the discipline’s sphere of activity was by no means limited to bodies living or dead: organic stains of blood, semen, meconium and breast milk; prints and marks on fabrics and other surfaces; and fibres and hair all lay within the purview of forensic medicine.1 The inevitable consequence of advancing knowledge was increased specialization within forensic medicine and a growing demarcation between forensic medicine and forensic science – processes that characterized the twentieth-century history of the discipline. By 1950 it was clear that forensic medicine had become an umbrella term, as medico-legal practitioners differentiated themselves according to professional expertise: pathologists, psychiatrists and toxicologists were joined by serologists as specialists who recognized that no single individual could hope to attain the breadth of experience that nineteenth-century experts had had, making collaboration a progressively more common feature of working practice. Furthermore, as the scientific investigation of all types of crimes grew in importance, the field of forensic science expanded to include chemistry, physics, biology, botany, zoology, entomology, anthropology, geology and, most recently and dramatically, genetics.2 Applied social science also established its value to the criminal justice system, most notably through forensic psychology and behavioural analysis.3