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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
examiners, who were required to be physicians. Physician medical examiners began performing autopsies for coroners in Baltimore in 1890. In 1918, New York City instituted a medical examiner system.5
The National Academy of Sciences first addressed the state of death investigation in 1928. The National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Committee on Medical Legal Problems, whose members included Roscoe Pound, Dean of Harvard Law School, and John Henry Wigmore, Dean of Northwestern Law School, released a harshly critical report entitled The Coroner and theMedical Examiner.6 In its first four recommendations, the 1928 committee suggested the following: (1) that the office of coroner be abolished. It is an anachronistic institution which has conclusively demonstrated its incapacity to perform the functions customarily required of it; (2) that the medical duties of the coroner’s office be vested in the office of medical examiner; (3) that the office of medical examiner be headed by a scientifically trained and competent pathologist, selected and retained under civil service, and compensated by a salary which will attract men of genuine scientific training and ability; and (4) that the office of medical examiner be provided with the services of a staff competent in toxicology, bacteriology and other sciences necessary in the scientific investigation of causes of death, and with adequate scientific equipment….7
Additionally, the 1928 committee recommended the development of medicolegal institutes, which would affiliate medical examiners with hospitals and universities.8 In 1932, another NRC committee produced a review of existing medicolegal collaborations, which were mostly located in Europe.9 This committee again advised a larger role for medical doctors within forensic science and criminal proceedings.10
In 1954, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws issued the Model Post-Mortem Examinations Act (the Model Act).11 In its prefatory note, the Model Act stated the following:
The purpose of the Post-Mortem Examinations Act is to provide a means whereby greater competence can be assured in determining causes of death where criminal liability may be involved. Experience has shown that many
IOM, 2003, op. cit.
Bulletin of the National Research Council, No. 64. 1928. The Coroner and the MedicalExaminer. Washington, DC: National Research Council.
Ibid., p. 89.
Ibid., p. 90.
Bulletin of the National Research Council, No. 87. 1932. Possibilities and Need forDevelopment of Legal Medicine in the United States. Washington, DC: National Research Council.