Wednesday 14 November 2018

What I did today... Professor Marie Cassidy State Pathologist

Ailin Quinlan

'Today I spent several hours in Beaumont Hospital lecturing to medical undergraduates about child deaths, asphyxia and the examination of victims of sexual assault.

"My work is very varied, though people just tend to see my presence at the scenes of suspicious deaths, or performing post-mortem examinations.

"I spend quite a bit of my time giving evidence in criminal courts or at inquests and there is a huge teaching role at the College of Surgeons, Trinity College and UCD, which involves lecturing to undergraduates and post-graduates on forensic medicine and forensic science.

"Also, I can be called out by the gardai or by a coroner any time of day or night to the scene of a death which is being treated as suspicious. That can be in any corner of Ireland, so I am on the road very regularly.

I have two deputy state pathologists so it's shared between three of us.

"Recently we have had an inordinate number of shooting incidents, many of which are drug- or gang-related, and normally in those circumstances we would be called to examine the body on the scene and consult with the ballistics experts and the forensic scientist.

"Once we have made our preliminary examination the body is removed to the mortuary. Our office is in Dublin, but all of our autopsy work is carried out in mortuaries around the country, usually in the local hospital.

"The first phase of the post mortem in certain categories like shootings involves an x-ray of the body to help us locate bullets.

"A post mortem can take anywhere from three to between six and seven hours depending on the complexity of the examination.

"I've been a forensic pathologist since 1985 and I arrived in Ireland in 1998 as deputy state pathologist.

"The number of suspicious deaths we have been covering since then has more than doubled. When I came from Glasgow we had seen a lot of drug-related and gangland crime.

"This started to explode in Ireland over a very short period and now such cases are commonplace. However, we're not seeing the same amount of sporadic street violence as we used to four or five years ago.

"There are always cases that you find difficult. I remember one case in Glasgow in which a young girl was murdered. I knew her family but I didn't recognise her because her injuries were so extensive. That was terribly traumatic; it was a dreadful thing.

"Sometimes we get these cases where there is no rhyme or reason; some person was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"It is devastating for their families. A lot of the media attention is often on the victim or the accused but they don't seem to see the devastation of the family.

"I find it very difficult to meet the family --they are so raw, and they are looking for an explanation but often there is none. Often it makes no sense at all."

Irish Independent

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