Natural vs. Unnatural Death

Death can occur naturally, unnaturally or as the result of a combination of causes originating from oneself or another. While some cases consist of overt evidence that the death occurred naturally, others require an expert to determine the precise cause of death or combination of causes. A hospital-based pathologist’s training in determining the cause of death may not include the depth or breadth of the knowledge necessary to assess suspicious death cases. Therefore, expert forensic pathologists, such as those at The Forensic Panel, are able to assess whether or not the cause of death was unnatural. To do this, experts must be familiar with external stressors such as poisons, noxious substances and environmental diseases, as well as the subtle ways in which these stressors affect the body. The expert forensic pathologists at The Forensic Panel are trained in the detection of unnatural causes of death regardless of whether the identity of the body is known or the doubtful or questionable clinical history of the deceased.

For instance, a “contributing cause” of death is often a pre-existing illness or condition. Examples would be pneumonia or asthma. While they may contribute to the cause of death, the highly trained pathologist at The Forensic Panel can determine what role such medical condition played in the death. It is essential for a forensic pathologist to rule-out pre-existing conditions in order to deduce the actual cause for death.

In some cases stress functions as a catalyst that, in fact, leads to death by directly compounding existing health complications, such as heart disease. Whether it is work-related or a death in the family, stress can be the result of a variety of events in one’s life. For some cases it is extremely difficult to determine if the contributing cause of death is stress related. That being said, it is imperative that a pathologist possess the ability and knowledge to determine if stress is a contributing cause to death and to rule-out other possibilities.

When the identity of the body can be established, the forensic pathologist utilizes a comprehensive investigative study of the circumstances leading to and surrounding death, an evaluation of the medical history, and a postmortem examination. Furthermore, the experts investigate holistically and extensively all relevant sources to explain the circumstances and conditions leading to death. Through peer review, expert findings are substantiated by other notable experts in the field. Such a rigorous process supplements the forensic pathologist’s ability to accurately determine the causes of death as natural, unnatural, or a combination of factors.