Doper Docs: What is "Vital Reaction?"

I was watching the History Channel documentary on Sept 11, the new one about the recovery efforts and how they identified the remains.

One woman lost her husband. Months later, they finally identified two leg bone fragments as belonging to her husband through DNA, which she provided with a hairbrush. The investigator said the first question the families asked was, “Did my loved one suffer?” and they were able to tell this woman 1)Her husband probably died sitting at his desk, as his legs were protected from the impact and 2)There was no sign of “vital reaction,” meaning he probably didn’t even know what hit him.

What is vital reaction? Are they testing for the presence of adrenalin?

Vital reaction is defined in different ways in forensic pathology, and could mean certain soft tissue enzyme reactions, scarring, platelet plugs in damaged blood vessels and so on. The common denominator is finding a tissue response to injury in a dead person that could not have occurred after death - no tissue response/vital reaction and it can be deduced that the injury occurred at the time of death or later.

I was just reading a Matt Scudder mystery where he frames a man for a suicide death (the man had killed someone else and gotten away with it) by firing additional shots into the dead body to simulate a murder. An experienced forensic pathologist would suspect by examining the body that some of the gunshot injuries had occurred after death.

How anyone could make a deduction of this type from a few bone fragments is beyond me, but forensic science is a weird and wonderful thing.

What tissue response are they looking for? Somehow I got the idea they were able to tell this woman her husband had no idea what was happening…maybe I’ve got that wrong, and they’re telling her something else?

IANA foresic nurse, but a variety of predictable and overlapping chemical changes happen in living or “vital” tissue in the presence of pain/trauma/stress that won’t happen in dead tissue. I also would be skeptical of what could be known from bone fragments, but I expect to find elevation of white blood cells and serum glucose in a fresh post op, car wreck or broken bone. I’m sure the real CSI folks have quite an arsenal of tests. I expect that they can obtain trace blood from a bone fragment.

Wow. I had no idea they could test for mental stress in bones. How long before they can tell your loved ones what you were thinking when you died! :wink:

Well, it’s and integrated organism; everything’s connected to everything else.

We can do that about 80% of the time right now with “oops,” and “oh shit.” :smiley:

I eagerly await the next season of “CSI.”