Editor’s Note: Dr. Steven Yablonsky, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Virginia, is the author of “The Medical Mirror: Fascination, Conflict, and the Unseen World of Anthropological Research.”
(CNN) — Rarely do scientific results show in a matter of days a conclusion as quickly as it took for the results of the first post-mortem examination on a celebrity to clear Brian Laundrie.
The outcome was a flash in the pan: 15 years after the autopsy on Anna Nicole Smith, those post-mortem results presented to the world at a professional level were inconclusive, and the cause of death was not clear.
Still, we have been unable to recreate the path to that point, nor to demonstrate by other means the precise causes of death to which she succumbed.
Why, after all, should the results remain inconclusive for 15 years and not finally revealed, 15 years later?
As news broke this week about Bill Cosby’s trial, the question of why the American criminal justice system has been unable to deal with sex crimes before has finally been put to rest.
As we have seen from Bill Cosby’s trial, 15 years after the initial incident, it’s possible to vindicate and to punish.
Why, then, can’t sex crimes involving deaths or other departures from healthy conditions be dealt with so quickly?
Dr. Yablonsky’s The Forensic Anatomical Journal addresses this “impossible trail” in a new article by Brian Laundrie.
The stakes are high.
Of course, the intent of medical anthropology is to decode what is happening in the body.
Removing limbs and restricting temperature range (as is often necessary) prevents it from being able to fully meet that purpose.
However, the further it can complicate and even obscure the cause of death, the less plausible the cause of death becomes as far as the scientific community is concerned.
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With so much at stake, one might expect the task of post-mortem investigation would be a very demanding one.
Certainly it is.
But when you consider the rewards and significance of solving a serious mystery in such a high-profile case, the costs of a problematic process are almost entirely outweighed by the gift of knowing what happened.