Jurisdiction Issues

Federal agents took control of the investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, allowing a non-forensic pathologist to perform the examination of the president's body. This produced questionable results. At the time, there was some confusion over who had the right in a federal investigation to perform the autopsy of a public official.

To solve this problem, the law now mandates that examinations in federal investigations regarding the death of an official are to be performed by pathologists from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. In federal investigations dealing with the death of a civilian, agents will contract a qualified local pathologist to do the work.

Haunting Work

Having learned some of the grisly details of this job, it is easy to wonder how anyone could to do this for a living without suffering severe psychological side effects. Dr. Kiesel discussed the emotional and psychological side of this kind of work:

You've got to be the type of person who can emotionally disconnect [from] it. I mean, if you went into a case looking at it as, 'Geez, this is somebody's little girl or somebody's little boy,' you'd never be able to do the case. You can't personalize it in any way... When you walk in, you never forget that this is somebody's loved one. You never forget that, but when you walk in to do the job, you kinda put that information aside. You look at them more as a puzzle, and your job is to sort out this puzzle. I've got to find out what happened. Who, what, why, when, where. I mean, that's what my job is, to sort out and get those answers. And, do it in a respectful way. A lot of people can't do this type of job. A lot of people don't want to do this type of job. There are a lot of jobs I wouldn't want to do either.

For more information on autopsies, medical examiners and related topics, check out the links on the next page.