Medical Jurisprudence : Tale of Two Trees

The two big trees of law and medicine have branches spread out that tend to intersect at a point—Medical Jurisprudence. “Study of laws related to medicine” and “administration of medical knowledge for administrations of law” are sentences that, although sounding adversarial, happen to swirl around each other, forming a bridge between the two trees.

Forensic science is the field where the knowledge of science as a whole is applied, and the scientists are usually experts from different fields of science, who work in a confined zone, the forensic science laboratory. Three major branches of science—physics, chemistry, and biology—are the backbones of all their investigation, and interpretation of evidence analyzed are their major job responsibility. The evidence examined depends on the expertise of these major branches. Serology, a branch originating from biology, for example, analyzes blood, blood products, and seminal stains, whereas toxicology, a branch originating from chemistry, analyzes poisonous and narcotic products.
A branch of science studying human body in medical science is anatomy, and the basis of diagnosis of an organ is pathology. Death and crime investigations can be considered fruits from the same tree. Scene of crime officers are the police, who inspect the scene of incident. Forensic pathologists are experts in human pathology who collect evidence of court value not only from the dead bodies, but at times may be engaged in the evolving concept of ‘clinical forensic medicine’, where vital medico-legal evidence is collected from living survivors of violence and abuse for further examinations. Their workplaces are hospitals, field hospitals, or even crime scenes, alongside the investigating police officer. Collection of evidence and interpretation of findings to estimate grievousness of injuries and formulating the cause of death and association of any injuries/illness to death are basic objectives of their work.
Forensic anthropology and odontology are other specialized branches of human body science that are versatile and practical during mass disasters for identifying individuals. Study of fingerprints and handwritings, to more sophisticated DNA testing, are all branches of different sciences within the same tree.

Ironically, the public’s understanding of court procedure is reflective of the old saying, “whoever tells the best story wins”. The statements given by assailant, perpetrator, victim, neighbor, or anyone present at the scene of incident are recorded as verbal evidence. Witness analysis is a major branch of legal procedure. Any papers like birth certificates, injury reports, licenses, etc. are documentary evidence provided by experts or any authorized personnel who are experts in their field, or the expert witness. The expert witness gathers facts from the content and produces a report based on his/her expertise. Court procedure appears understandable when we mention defense lawyers, public prosecutors, and judges, but is equally puzzling when the stories discussed and focused on in the courtroom are usually confined to mere witness statements that can turn hostile any moment. Civil law, corporate law, child/infant and female delinquencies, and humanitarian laws are some branches that one is aware of. A separate branch of law that deals only with medical science is medical jurisprudence.

The Intersecting Branches

The branches from both these trees tend to intersect at multiple points, but bear separate fruits. These trees, no matter how close to each other, coexist as a separate entity in today’s world. The reports provided by a scientist can be of value only if a student of law can understand it. Similarly, allegation of negligence and misconduct by the medical man can only be avoided if s/he knows his laws right and tends to abide by it. For justice to be science-based, and not witness-based, these two trees should have their branches intermingled when in their plant-hood, and let both grow as a single tree with different roots. The current education system has different field set-ups in a flowchart that never meet again. The only law scientists learned, besides Newton’s and Henry’s Law, were during civic classes, and the utmost biology any lawyers know are confined to plants and insects, if not frogs and earthworms; all learnt during early life of their education. At some point of life, our expertise is confined to the path we travel on and the tributaries we leave behind. We tend to remember some algebra formula and question ourselves about its importance in life. What we should regret is not on being taught the things that we never used in life, but not continue in learning things we need the most in life, the science and the law!

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One comment

  1. You have said ‘ Death and crime investigation can be considered fruits from same tree’. We know death is inevitable. But those who die painful death e.g. RTA, is it fruit or curse? You have said about the crime investigation but not mentioned anything about death. As a medical person, we deal with death almost everyday.So, you could have elaborated of role of medical science in dealing with dead bodies.

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