Prof. Dr. Oğuz POLAT
Türkiye has a short history of forensic medicine compared to the developed countries. Sultan Mahmud II established the first medical school of the Ottoman Empire named as Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şahane to provide health services to the army in 1839.
It is also accepted as an important milestone of both medical education and forensic medicine in Türkiye. The first lecturer of forensic medicine at Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şahane was Dr. Charles Ambroise Bernard (C.A.) and he was also the first to perform autopsy in the history of Ottoman Empire. Approximately 40 years after the first forensic medicine lecture in 1879, the Department of Medical Jurisprudence was established as a division of Zabıta (Law Enforcement Office) Tababet-i Adliye in Istanbul .
History of human beings is full of examples that law and justice have consulted to medicine, especially in some criminal offences to decide accurately. Forensic medicine, being a part of the modern medicine, has been the most addressed department both in the past and in the present. The history of forensic medicine in Ottomans began relatively late with the foundation of the Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şahane, which was the first modern medical school of Ottomans, by Padishah Mahmud II. This school has been accepted as an important milestone for the development of forensic medicine both in Ottomans and in the Republic of Türkiye.
Dr. Charles Ambroise Bernard (C. A.) was the first lecturer of forensic medicine in this school, and he was also the first director of Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şahane. The first efforts to organize a forensic medicine unit in this medical faculty have also built up the roots of the forensic medicine in the Republic of Türkiye today.
During the Ottoman period, attempts for getting consent for autopsy and exhumation in suspicious deaths were rejected by the Sheikh ul Islam, the religious cheif of the Ottoman Dynasty.
Therefore, during that period of time doctors had very limited opportunity for performing autopsies with the permission from of the padishah.
The first ‘‘modern” forensic autopsy, which was also a part of an investigation about on the death of a building constructor whose head was crushed after a big stick fell on him was performed in 1841 by Dr. Bernard at the Austrian Hospital. performed the autopsy of an Austrian man.
Forensic medicine lectures were started by Dr. Bernard, who was assisted by Dr. Serviçen Efendi, in 1841. After the death of Dr. Bernard in 1844, Dr. Serviçen Efendi carried out the forensic medicine lectures until 1846. His successor was Dr. Agop Handanian who had passed the examination and had acquired the position of an Associate Professor at Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şahane in 1866. Then Dr. Agop Handanian gave the first forensic medicine lecture in a nonmilitary medical school named as Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Mülkiye in 1867. This medical school was the first to conduct the lectures in Turkish language instead of in French in Ottomans.
Dr. Agop Handanian was the first to translate forensic medicine books from French to Turkish language in Ottoman age. These books were written originally by Brande and Chande in 1877 and 1885 and were named as ‘‘Book of Medical Jurisprudence” (Kitab- ı Tıbb-i Kanuni) and ‘‘Book of Legal Chemistry” (Kitab-ı Kimyay-ı Kanuni), respectively.
In Turkish jurisprudence history, the term ‘‘medical expert” was initially defined by Ceza Kanunname-i Humayun (Criminal Law) in 1858. According to this law, when asked, the medical experts had to declare their thoughts about the crimes. Additionally under this law not only doctors but also nurses and health-officers had to share their experiences when asked by public prosecutor to give their opinions about the crimes.
In 1879, Kanun-u Muhakemat-ı Cezaiye (Judgment in Criminal Law) was changed, and in this law it was explained that in some crimes, which involved killing a man or assaulting or battering, the prosecutor had to take the opinion of a doctor. This doctor, called as an ‘‘expert”, could be a surgeon or a practitioner.
In 1879, (Zabıta Tababet-i Adliye) the Department of Medical Jurisprudence was established as a part of the Law Enforcement Office in Istanbul. (Forensic jurisprudence spread from Istanbul to other cities where public, private and also military doctors and health-officers and midwives tried to serve forensic medicine services But only doctors were responsible for performing the autopsies. Doctors performed autopsy only at the Autopsy Room at Askeri Tıbbiye-i Tesrihhane (Military School of Medicine).
In 1909, military medical schools were clubbed with other medical schools and their names were changed to ‘‘Haydarpaşa Medical Faculty” where Dr. Bahaettin Sakir was appointed as a professor and he wrote the first Turkish copyright forensic book in our country in 1910. However, this book was published in the form of fascicles.
In 1908, the first Morgue office and Chemistry office were established in the organization of Umur-u Tıbbiye-i Mülkiye and Sıhhiye-i Umuriye (Ministry of Health). So that the core of forensic medicine organization was built up early. Again autopsies were performed in the Autopsy Room at the Military School of Medicine.
In 1917 the Department of forensic medicine became the Department of Ministry of justice. Turkish Republic In 1920, during the warfare, the Turkish Parliament TBMM decided upon the forensic medicine doctors’ duties and rights. During the warfare of liberation, forensic medicine provided services at the government house in Ankara. The autopsies were performed at Ankara Gureba Hospital. Also other activities, such as reporting the degree of mental illnesses and legal capacity of people were examined again in the same hospital ın 1926, the demand for forensic medicine services increased. For this reason, the term ‘‘forensic medicine” was changed to ‘‘forensic medicine presidency”. At the same time, Morgue, Observation and Chemistry offices were opened. New forensic medicine offices were also established in the five different cities of Türkiye.
Until 1926, Forensic medicine services were the place for Forensic Medicine. forensic medicine services was shifted to Veliaht Yaveran Dairesi in Dolmabahçe Palace. But one year later, it was again shifted from this palace to the Barracks of Military Middle School (Rüştiye-i Askeriye) at Soğuksuceşme due to the law of protection of national palace. Until 1982, Soğuksuçeşme Rüştiye-i Askeriye was used efficiently, but later, this building lacked sufficient qualifications for forensic medicine services so it was shifted to the campus of Cerrahpaşa Faculty of Medicine.
Under the new law, in 1953 it was noticed that psychiatry institutes and department of forensic medicine of universities could provide expert service. Under the same law, eight departments were established. These were Morgue, physic, chemistry, observation, biology, psychiatry, traffic, and graphology. Also the term forensic medicine was changed to ‘‘Council of Forensic Medicine”.
Today Forensic Medicine is a branch and department of medical faculties and also faculties’ law has lectures on forensic medicine. All medical faculties have departments of forensic medicine. Prof. Polat opened the first DNA identification laboratory and modernized morgue for the first time at the Council of Forensic Medicine.
At present, there are three organizations in Türkiye which are involved in the forensic medicine field (1) the Universities of Medical Sciences the number of which reached 42, (2) the Council of Forensic Medicine, and its branch offices in cities and (3) the Institute of Forensic Medicine. The Council of Forensic Medicine is an official body of the Judiciary, which is situated in Istanbul.
Recently, forensic medicine is being practiced widely by the medical doctors, and all the criminal cases are being investigated in terms of forensic sciences. Medical faculties have forensic medicine departments. Also, all cities have their own forensic medicine experts.
Clinical forensic medicine is also performed for all violence cases of child abuse and domestic violence. Especially multidisciplinary teams are working with the coordination of forensic experts at the university hospitals.
Today there are approximately 500 forensic medicine experts. Forty of them are academically involved, and books, and journals are published.