Drowning – a forensic-medical study.
Børresen Bente, Ormstad Kari.Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Oslo.
A complete autopsy with histological analysis and toxicological screening is considered necessary to establish the diagnosis of drowning and disclose any factors contributing to death. This retrospective review of a three year material of water-related casualties examined at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Oslo, showed that only 57% of causes of death diagnosed as drowning in Southern and Eastern Norway, were based on medico-legal autopsy findings. Among autopsied corpses retrieved from water, death was attributed to drowning in only 84%. We assume there is a substantial risk for a number of water-related deaths being incorrectly diagnosed, and that contributing factors are missed.
The study does not allow any conclusion about the incidence of so-called “dry drowning”.
Alcohol and/or high levels of psychoactive drugs were present in blood samples in 56% of drowned subjects.
Among deaths due to drowning, one third were classified as suicides, and two thirds as accidents, while one person - a toddler – had been murdered.
Suicidal drowning was usually committed during summer by jumping or walking into water from shore, and some drowned themselves in bathtubs. Females are more likely than males to commit suicide by drowning. Accidental drowning usually occurred in spring and autumn by falling from boats (not ships) or from shore, and some drowned during leisurely swimming activities outdoors or in bathtubs. Males are more likely than females to die by drowning when dying in accidents.