Unequipped Morgues: Tricky autopsy gives doctors hard times

Salauddin Khan, officer-in-charge of Banani Police Station, lost his life during the Holey Artisan siege on July 1, 2016. Police officials suspected he had suffered bullet injuries during the operation to free the hostages.

But the doctors at Dhaka Medical College morgue initially did not find any bullet in his body after dissecting all major parts.

They even cut the spinal cord into pieces, and finally a grenade splinter was found stuck between two bones.

"It took more than three hours and we literally had to dismember the body as we don't have a digital portable x-ray machine," said Sohel Mahmud, chief of the forensic department of DMC.

"I have conducted over a hundred autopsies of bullet-hit or splinter-hit bodies. But we do not find bullets or splinters every time even after cutting them," he told The Daily Star.

"Sometimes the body becomes horrific after having a series of cuts," he said.

The autopsy of Salauddin, however, is not an isolated case. The doctors at different morgues go through similar experience often due to a lack of the x-ray machine that allows the doctors to see what is inside the body in just a few minutes without having to cut it open, said forensic medicine experts.

They said no morgue in Bangladesh has the x-ray machine, which has widely been used in the countries including India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

"The forensic medicine department has long been neglected. I have personally conveyed this to the authorities a number of times, but to no avail," said Sohel Mahmud, also an associate professor of the DMC forensic department.


Doctors said none of the morgues has the instruments like electric blades, trays, special knives and special boxes to keep evidence or modern labs.

Due to the lack of proper equipment at the morgues, investigators often have to do with faulty autopsy reports, said officials at Police Bureau of Investigation, a specialised police unit.

Despite having evidence of murder, officials often find it difficult to reach a definite conclusion because of the faulty autopsy report.

"The condition of the morgues should be improved immediately," Mostofa Kamal, special superintendent of PBI, told The Daily Star.

He said doctors still conduct autopsies the old way that can hardly give proper pictures. Besides, evidence often gets damaged as the bodies are not preserved properly.

"We've already recommended supplying modern instruments to morgues, providing adequate training to doctors and appointing morgue assistants for the sake of accurate results from the autopsy," he added.


There are three morgues in the capital. Besides, the general hospitals in the districts have one morgue each.

Of the morgues, the one at Dhaka Medical College is still regarded the best in the country and it receives on average eight to 10 bodies daily for autopsy.

According to DMC morgue sources, bodies of five victims suspected to have suffered bullet wounds were sent for autopsy in the first six months of the year. Of those, two were from areas under Khilkhet, two from Shahbagh and one from South Keraniganj police stations.

In one of the bodies from Khilkhet, doctors recovered around 25 pellets and a bullet. For that, they had to cut them into pieces.

At the DMC morgue, there are four refrigerators with the capacity to keep four bodies each.

Out of the four, one refrigerator has been out of order for years, and one is occupied with the bodies of two foreigners. Only two are functioning with the capacity to keep only eight bodies at a time.

If several bodies suspected to be carrying bullets are sent to the morgue in a day, the doctors will have to keep two or more in one refrigerator as such an autopsy takes time.

Prof Abul Kalam Azad, principal of the college, said they have already made a list of equipment required for the forensic department and communicated with the ministry.

"We hope necessary equipment will come soon," he added.

Prof Harun Or Rashid, former forensic department head of Sir Salimullah Medical College, said, "The department has no proper or modern instruments. We have to work with this limitation. The authorities should focus on it, as a fault in the report may change the course of investigation."

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