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ISSN 2332-0915
Anthropology
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One Month of Death in Venice. Mortality and Status of the Cadaver in an Early 20th c. Necroscopic Registry

Philippe Charlier1,2*, Stéphanie Cavard1 and Christian Hervé2

1Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, University Hospital R. Poincaré (AP-HP, UVSQ), 104 R. Poincaré boulevard, 92380 Garches, France

2Laboratory of Medical Ethics, University of Paris 5, 45 Saints Pères street, 75006 Paris, France

*Corresponding Author:
Philippe Charlier
Department of Forensic Pathology and Medicine
University Hospital R. Poincaré (AP-HP, UVSQ)
92380 Garches, France
Tel: +33 1 47107689
Fax: +33 147107683
E-mail: [email protected]

Received date: July 04, 2013; Accepted date: July 06, 2013; Published date: July 07, 2013

Citation: Charlier P, Cavard S, Hervé C (2013) One Month of Death in Venice. Mortality and Status of the Cadaver in an Early 20th c. Necroscopic Registry. Anthropol 1:e107. doi: 10.4172/2332-0915.1000e107

Copyright: © 2013 Charlier P, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Abstract

The authors present the retrospective analysis of a necroscopic registry concerning all cadavers originating from Venice (northern Italy) inhumed within the cemetery island of San-Michele, between the 30th of August and the 28th of September 1917. Data concerning age, sex, place and cause of death are given (this last, determined by a medico necroscopo, i.e. a forensic practitioner), but also details concerning the status of the cadaver. Short-term delay between death declaration and extreme date for inhumation is explained by the extremely rare frequency of embalming processes in this chrono-cultural context. Early fetuses (3rd months in utero, for the youngest) have a complete place within the cemetery (even in the absence of any viability and/or vitality). Such a preliminary examination of this registry also highlights its great interest for the history of autopsy practice, and the evolution of diseases spread.

Keywords

Cause of death; Medical ethics; History of medicine; Embalming; Status of the cadaver

Introduction

Little is known about mortality and causes of death in northern Italy during the early 20th c., even if isolated cases have been published for earlier periods [1-4].

Recently, the authors had access to a burial authorization registry (Permesso di seppellimento) dealing with all cadavers buried in the cemetery island of San Michele, originating from the marshy lagoon of Venice (North Italy), between the 30th of August and the 28th of September 1917. The population of Venice at this period is estimated to around 200,000 individuals [5]. San Michele is a 17.6 ha island situated close to the northeast shore of historical Venice, and established since 1807 as the principal cemetery of the city.

Each sheet from the registry mentions: date of death declaration, complete name with direct filiations, age at death (given in years or months, sometimes in days for young children), date and hour of death, place of death, and cause of death given by the forensic practitioner (medico necroscopo). Necroscopic has to be understood as referring to the external (and potential internal) examination of the dead body with the purpose of certifying death and establishing its causes [6]. In a late administrative document (Mortuary Police Regulations, 1934), it is specified that the necroscopic physician is not a medico-legal expert and that his/her certifications has prevalently administrative purposes.

This registry is complete for the 30-days period, representing a total of 254 deaths (i.e. an average of 8.5 deaths per day, with extremes from 2 (29th of August) to 17 (19th of September) cadavers deposed within the island). Average age is 35.8 years (with extremes from fetuses of 3 months in-utero to 92.5 year-old). Sex ratio is 1.057, with 130 males (average age-at-death 34.4 year-old), 123 females (average age-at-death 37.5 year-old), and 1 indeterminate. Children were defined as less than 15 year-old.

According to the cause of death mentioned at the end of each certificate, all cases have been classified into 10 pathological entities: starvation (4.4%, n=11, including 7 children, all under 1-year-old), infection (51.7%, n=131, including 54 children, 33 of them being under 1 year-old), inflammation (6%, n=15, including 7 children), tumor (5.6%, n=14, including no children), obstetrics (9%, n=23, including 22 children and a woman of 24 year-old), vascular (17.4%, n=44, including 5 children), malformation (1%, n=2, including 1 children), trauma (2.3%, n=6, including 1 children), degenerative (1%, n=2), unknown (1%, n=2).

Main causes of infection were represented by tuberculosis (25%, n=33), gastro-enteritis, meningitides, nephritis, pertussis, malaria, cholera, plus one case of septicemia following wounds caused by First World War (WWI) in a 28-year-old male.

Tumors were: cervical cancer (n=4, ages from 40 to 71 year-old), fibromyosarcoma of the uterus (66 year-old), multiple abdominal sarcoma (female of 19 year-old), stomach cancer (males of 66 and 68, female of 76 year-old), esophageal cancer (male of 61, and female of 75 year-old), liver cancer (female of 82 year-old), breast cancer (female of 77 year-old), brain tumor (female of 61 year-old), and one case without any precision.

A great majority of vascular causes were represented by stroke (n=21), followed by myocardial infarction (n=10), cardiopathy, pulmonary embolism, aortic aneurysm, etc.

Interesting are the cases of obstetrical complications, where 2 fetuses of 3 and 4 months in-utero were buried inside the cemetery, even in the absence of any viability.

Cases related to trauma were composed of a fall from a great height (children of 14 year-old), a complicated femur fracture (female of 70 year-old), a suicide by precipitation (female of 40 year-old), sacrointestinal and bladder wounds related to shrapnels in a context of WWI (male of 60 year-old), and drowning (males of 25 and 42 year-old).

Death is generally declared 1 day after death (59%), with extremes from 0 (40%) to 5 days (<1%). In quite all the cases, the delay between death declaration and inhumation is given, and strictly limited to 24 hours. Exceptions, i.e. extension to 48 hours, are rare (n=17) without any predominant cause or period of the month. This short period is due to the absence of any refrigeration process in the city at this period, and the necessity of inhumation before the appearance of strong putrefaction signs (embalming processes being rare in this chronocultural context) [7].

Such a preliminary examination of this registry also highlights its great interest for the history of necroscopic practice, and the evolution of diseases spread. It also focuses on the post-mortem status of some individuals, especially early fetuses who have a complete place within the cemetery (even in the absence of any viability and/or vitality).

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