Intended for healthcare professionals


Forensic science in the dock

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 16 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:636
  1. Olaf Drummer, adjunct professor (,
  2. A Robert W Forrest, professor of forensic toxicology (,
  3. Bruce Goldberger, associate professor (,
  4. Steven B Karch, assistant medical examiner (
  1. Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, 57-83 Kavanagh Street, Southbank, Victoria 3006, Australia
  2. University of Sheffield, Sheffield S3 7ES
  3. Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Florida College of Medicine, PO Box 100275, Gainesville, FL 32610-0275, USA
  4. PO Box 5139, Berkeley, California 94705-0139, USA

    Postmortem measurements of drug concentration in blood have little meaning

    Investigations into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly have led to the exchange of acrimonious views including allegations of conspiracy and murder. David Kelly, a government scientist and weapons expert, committed suicide by cutting his wrist and taking painkillers after he was identified in newspapers as the man the UK government believed was the source for a BBC report on Iraq. Impetus for the debate stems mainly from conflicting views about the cause of death, including issues that relate to postmortem toxicology results and their interpretation. Controversy occurs from the mistaken notion that postmortem laboratory measurements, taken in isolation, can be interpreted effectively.

    The current controversy illustrates some universally held, but mistaken, notions about the process of death investigation in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Many assume that forensic pathology is as evidence based as other branches of medicine. This assumption is …

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