Potential Confusion Arising From Materials Presenting as Possible Human Remains

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The accurate identification of human tissues is an important part of forensic science, but may be difficult when specimens are small, fragmented, or burned. A wide variety of materials may be submitted as human, including parts of animals and nonorganic materials. Two cases involving a plastic fetal skeleton and a rubber fetus are described, which were initially considered to represent human remains, thus initiating police investigations for possible concealed stillbirth or infanticide. In one case, the remains were so deceptively real in appearance that hospital personnel initiated fibroblast cultures from an “umbilical cord”. A third case of mineral concretions that resembled a human hand is also described. These cases demonstrate that protocols should be in place for the rapid assessment of all suspected human remains by pathologists, so that nonhuman material can be rapidly excluded, and police investigations terminated.

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