Types of Forensic Medicine

Requirements of Veterinary Forensic Medicine

Veterinary forensic work is subject to open discussion and scrutiny, specifically in public venues such as court and other legal proceedings. These are rarely private (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Veterinary forensic medical work is very different from routine case workups, diagnosis, and treatment. A forensic veterinarian will have knowledge of criminal and regulatory statutes, including animal abuse, orders of protection for animals, animal seizure, and animal attacks. Veterinary forensic medicine is subject to open debate (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). The veterinarian giving evidence (even if considered an expert by the court) will be exposed to interrogation and/or cross-examination, scrutiny, criticism, and attempts to discredit them professionally (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Therefore, veterinary forensic medicine needs a specific approach and experience base that not all private practice or emergency practitioners, surgeons, or pathologists within veterinary medicine are comfortable with. A forensic veterinarian, given the transparent nature of modern forensic science, specifically involving required court appearances, must be fully prepared, both professionally and psychologically (Cooper & Cooper, 2007).

Veterinary Forensic Medicine

Human forensic medicine is an established and highly developed specialty. For decades, members of the human medical profession have been able to undertake training, pursue postgraduate recognition and credentialing, and obtain full-time employment. Veterinary medicine has not had the equivalent level of professional development and its comparable advantages (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Veterinarians are only now beginning to be recognized in primary roles in forensic investigations, with ready access to forensic training, and postgraduate credentials. In the past veterinarians interested in forensic studies had to pursue training within the human medical forensic professions without benefit of continuing education credits.

“As legislation relating to animal welfare, conservation and allied subjects increases and society becomes more litigious, especially in Western countries, the demand for specialists in animal forensic sciences is likely to grow and the gaps in education and training are likely to be gradually filled” (Cooper & Cooper, 2007).

Although beginning to be more sought after and utilized, veterinary forensic medicine has not been formally recognized as a discipline in its own right (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Currently, the only recognition as a specialty is offered within the board certification offered in the Shelter Medicine specialty. The increased prestige of veterinary medicine within the courts and elsewhere has been linked with the expansion of "wildlife crime” (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). In the United States, the establishment by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) of its wildlife forensic laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, resulted in the development of service to wildlife law enforcement agencies and others (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). During this same time period, in the late 1990s Wobeser (1996) published information on medicolegal necropsy of wildlife in Canada.

The perceived and potential value of the veterinarian in conservation cases and subsequent recognition has created a stronger role for the veterinary profession in legal cases relating to other disciplines concerning animals, including welfare and abuse (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Veterinary forensic medicine is similar to human forensic medicine; however, the focus may differ: welfare and conservation usually occupy animal cases, and issues of death or drug abuse may be more common in human forensic medicine (Cooper & Cooper, 2007).

Comparative Forensic Medicine

Dr. John Cooper defines comparative forensic medicine (CFM) as “the discipline concerned with forensic studies on different vertebrae and invertebrate species of animals, including humans, and the application of such work to the provisions of scientific information to assist in judicial and other processes" (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Dr. Cooper argues that veterinary forensic medicine and comparative forensic medicine are distinct entities, with overlapping qualities (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Veterinary medicine in the historical sense relates to the health of domesticated animals. Veterinary forensic medicine involves many species beyond those that are domesticated. Comparative forensic medicine is a discipline in its own right. This branch of comparative medicine bridges the gap between studies of humans and animals. This approach means that one can learn from studies of different species and then apply the findings to species where specific information may be limited (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). This truly emulates the relationship in many ways with human and veterinary forensic applications.

Comparative medicine has been recognized as a discipline in the United States (Cooper & Cooper, 2007), as demonstrated by published contributions by human medical professionals in animal pathology and oncology and by the recognition of veterinarians and others working with varying species by professional bodies like the American Academy of Forensic Science and the Centers for Disease Control in the United States. Comparative forensic medicine involves areas of both human and veterinary medicine where investigative methods are similar. It includes topics such as zoonosis, where there is cooperation among professionals working with both humans and animals. It also incorporates a broad approach to all animal species, not limiting it to domesticated species (Bradley, 1927; Cooper & Cooper, 2007).

Veterinary forensic medicine is a form of comparative medicine in that we continue to learn from human forensic disciplines as veterinary medicine begins to create its own areas of expertise while still being an important component of a forensic investigative team. In the United States this is referred to as the One Health system. One Health is a collaborative professional effort by multiple disciplines at local, state, national, and international levels to sustain optimal health for people, animals, and the environment (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2008).

Current Trends

There is no board certification for veterinary forensic medicine. However, it is incorporated into the board certification for Shelter Medicine under the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP Shelter Medicine Practice Board). The veterinary forensic science components required for the shelter board credentialing process are to:

■ Participate in the investigation of at least two single animal cases involving alleged criminal animal abuse or neglect including live animal examination for documentation (ABVP Shelter Medicine Practice Board)

■ Participate in the investigation of at least one multi-animal case involving alleged criminal animal abuse or neglect (ABVP Shelter Medicine Practice Board)

■ Perform at least one forensic necropsy (ABVP Shelter Medicine Practice Board)

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