A Timeline Of The Complete History of the AutopsyBreaking News
Considered the ultimate medical audit, an autopsy can be categorized by five different rulings for cause of death: natural, accident, homicide, suicide, or undetermined. Not everyone receives an autopsy upon death; in a case where suspicious circumstances surround the death, a medical examiner or coroner can order an autopsy without consent from next of kin. If your family has any lingering doubts about what killed you, they can request the procedure, but they'll have to cover the costs—$2,50o to $5,000—themselves.
Over the last 2,500 years, as medicine moved from mystic art to proper science, so did the field of pathology and the quest to figure out what a person's body can tell us about how they died. Autopsies can provide answers—but even now, sometimes they find nothing but a cloud of uncertainty. Here is their story.
460–370 B.C. No autopsies yet. But during this time, the Greek physician Hippocrates reasoned that diseases had natural rather than supernatural causes. He establishes the humoral theory: Four humors, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood, make up the human body. All diseases and disabilities, he asserted, were the result of an imbalance in the ratio of the humors to elements within the body.
367–282 B.C. Ptolemy I Soter, king of Egypt, champions pathologic anatomy and establishes the great university and library in Alexandria. He becomes the first ruler to allow medical officials to cut open and examine dead bodies for the purposes of learning. Most of the early dissections were performed on executed criminals. On some occasions, the king even took part in the dissections.
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