The importance of histological and immunohistochemical investigations in the establishment of cause of death is undisputed. The same is also, and more particularly, true of forensic cause-of-death determination. One frequently sees rare and unusual causes of death in forensic practice, causes that are able to explain in particular the suddenness of death. Added to this are the histopathological findings that arise from the specific spectrum of causes of death in forensic medicine: alcohol- and drug-induced fatalities; a wide variety of intoxications; fatalities due to heat, cold, electricity, and gases; as well as fatalities due to the effects of trauma. The histopathological classification of findings and the potential for age estimation are of particular relevance. For example, the age of a pulmonary embolism, a myocardial infarction, a lung infection, or peritonitis can be equally as interesting as the age of skin wounds and other wounds. From the perspective of the expert appraiser, this enables questions to be answered relating to the onset and course of pathological changes. This is important, for example, in the case of homicides, fatal accidents in the home, and traffic accidents or in the context of claims of medical malpractice in which an alleged medical error is believed to have caused death. Occasionally, fatalities that are relevant from an insurance/legal perspective need to be investigated, e.g., following asbestos exposure or fatal accidents in the workplace. Forensic histopathology also helps to determine the postmortem interval and identify tissue types in individual cases. Finally, in the spectrum of natural causes of death, a number of possible fatal infections need to be considered, or basic histopathological research is required to make progress relating not only to establishing causes of death. An example here would be the diagnosis of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Last but not least, forensic histopathological investigations also help to identify iatrogenic causes of findings, thus contributing to quality assurance in the interests of patient safety.
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