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Case of Fatal Starvation: Can Stable Isotope Analysis Serve to Support Morphological Diagnosis and Approximate the Length of Starvation?

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The diagnosis of death as a result of starvation is established on anthropological measurements, visual appearance of the deceased on external and internal examination, microscopic analysis, laboratory testing, and exclusion of other causes of death. Herein, we present our findings on a case of 95‐year‐old man who died of starvation. After the diagnosis of starvation was established by traditional forensic medicine methods, we have conducted retrospective segmental analysis of stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope ratios in hair sample. This method reveals periods of starvation through decrease in δ13C and increase in δ15N along the strand of hair. Our analysis revealed the decrease of 0.6 ‰ in δ13C during the last 10–12 weeks prior to death, similar as reported in other investigations. Also, a decrease of 0.7 ‰ in δ15N during the last 8–10 weeks prior to death was determined that was different than observed in previous studies.
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Keywords: elder abuse; forensic pathology; forensic science; stable carbon (δ13C); stable isotopes; stable nitrogen (δ15N); starvation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2017

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