Many would consider laboratory and research space to represent a highly specialized challenge for facility owners, architects, and engineers. In fact they require unique skills and customized approaches tailored to creating optimally functional, well-calibrated environments for use by medical personnel, scientists, and technicians. Yet more specific challenges arise based on their nature and objectives—and medicolegal autopsy facilities represent a particularly challenging set of criteria for project design teams.
Buildings and interiors for medicolegal autopsies have unique demands and functional criteria not seen elsewhere, due to their unique mission: to facilitate forensic services, support coroner/pathologist/medical examiner policies and procedures, and successfully accommodate varying investigation workloads/methods into the causes and manners of deaths of public interest.
Moreover, medicolegal autopsy facilities generally require core spaces developed for subsections of analysis and work flow—typically body storage, autopsy rooms, imaging room(s), forensic anthropology and associated pathology labs, among others. The facilities must also support a specimen processing flow, with adherence to strict legal requirements for evidence handling and chain of custody. Life-safety considerations include support protocols for such biohazards as infectious aerosols and other exposures of forensic medicine.
Last, because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter of medicolegal autopsy facilities—due to associations, odors, and stark views of the deceased—facility designs must pay attention to developing appropriate means to accommodate occupancy, as required, by non-staff professionals and civilian visitors, including the families of the deceased.
In addition, trends in forensic medicine are pressuring existing and new medicolegal autopsy facilities to adapt. Among these key changes is the emergence of computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as new tools for death investigation. Increased concerns over biosafety are an area of focus, in part due to the inherent hazards and also due to a heightened awareness of health and safety requirements, including better facility engineering approaches for the improved well being of all personnel and visitors.
Other important changes affecting the medicolegal autopsy infrastructure include novel approaches such as the molecular autopsy, which can include molecular genetic analysis and whole-genome sequencing to assist the coroner/pathologist/medical examiner in determining causes of death—and a genetic etiology that may benefit surviving family members who risk similar health issues. Last, the growing prevalence of telemedicine (videoconferencing extending to the laboratory environment) brings a raft of new considerations and exciting opportunities for facility design.