Thursday, May 29, 2014

If You're Not Dead, It's Not Really an Autopsy

The coroners were
certain he was dead at
the end of the autopsy
Washington Irving Bishop was a nineteenth-century mind reader, now largely forgotten, who came to a sorry end. He was performing in New York in May, 1889, when he collapsed on stage. An autopsy was performed to determine the cause of death, but that was followed by an inquest as to whether Mr. Bishop was dead before the autopsy started or just comatose. The New-York Tribune reported on this on May 29, 1889.

At the inquest, things got off to a less than encouraging start.
Deputy-Coroner Jenkins was the first witness called. He testified that on examining the body he found that portions of the brain had been removed for microscopical examination. From the condition of the body at the time he saw it he could not say whether death had taken place before the autopsy was made by Drs. Ferguson and Irwin.
Dr. Jenkins later "declined to express any positive opinion as to whether Bishop was dead when the autopsy was performed." Oh dear.

Dr. Irwin, one of the coroners who actually performed the autopsy,
described the death, and ascribed its cause to coma, and placed the actual time of death as shortly after midnight.
We can only hope that they waited until morning to begin their work. Dr. Irwin said that "the body had been on ice for some time before he saw it," which would have been before the autopsy, though Dr. Irwin would only go so far as to say that "he believed Bishop was dead before the autopsy was made." After, there was probably no doubt, what with them removing a chunk of his brain.

Another medical expert, Dr. Fitch, "testified as to the several methods of detecting death." We can presume that not objecting to an autopsy would be one of them, though the article does not specify what any of these are, or if they were actually used on Mr. Bishop.

After the doctors testified, Mr. Bishop's wife was supposed to as well, but was described as "too ill to testify," so the inquest adjourned until the morning of May 29.

Although here I'm writing about Mr. Bishop at his death, I think I'll be returning to him soon.
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