Michael Baden, a longtime medical examiner for New York City, has helped publicize the work of forensic pathologists through his books and television appearances. Baden has focused particularly on the need for physicians trained in pathology to conduct autopsies and the importance of developing national standards for investigating unnatural deaths. He has served as an expert witness in several high-profile cases, including the examination of the remains of Tsar Nicholas of Russia, the death of comedian John Belushi, and the re-autopsy of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
Baden was born in the Bronx section of New York City to Jewish immigrants from Russian Poland. A troubled juvenile, he was sent away at the age of six to live at the Hawthorne Reform School in Westchester County, New York. His housemother worked at the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital and she impressed the boy by telling him that Bellevue was a place were great people cured the less fortunate. After paying a visit to Bellevue in 1947, Baden decided to become a physician.
As a medical student at the New York University School of Medicine, Baden planned to become an internist. The New York City Medical Examiner shared the morgue next door to Bellevue. Advised by a professor to examine the bodies, Baden began to assist in autopsies. Few other medical students had an interest in forensic pathology, which was widely regarded in the medical profession at the time as a refuge for alcoholics and others who could not meet the grade. Following his 1959 graduation, Baden interned in New York City hospitals while moonlighting as a medical examiner.
From 1961 to 1986, Baden worked as forensic pathologist in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. He and his colleagues examined the causes of death from auto accidents, which helped to demonstrate that seatbelts were important for preventing fatal injuries. Baden also helped to establish how suicides in jails, the most frequent cause of death there, could be prevented. Most jailhouse suicides were accomplished by hanging; Baden recommended putting up bars that would collapse under weight and taking away shoelaces and belts from prisoners.
Baden is one of only about three hundred fulltime forensic pathologists in the country. He served as the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City from 1978 to 1979. Conflict ensued in this capacity when Baden envisioned the office as scientific and apolitical, and the District Attorney considered the medical examiner an important arm of the prosecution.
Most coroners are untrained in medicine. Most jurisdictions require only that a coroner be an American citizen and over 21 years of age. Additionally, there are no national standards for investigating unnatural deaths and for protecting, documenting, and collecting evidence at the crime scene. The lack of standards has led to cases such as that of President John F. Kennedy, who was examined by hospital pathologists who had no training or experience with gunshot wounds. Baden became the first forensic pathologist to examine Kennedy's wounds via photographs as the chairman of the Forensic Pathology Panel of the U.S. Congress Select Committee on Assassinations that investigated the deaths of President John F. Kennedy as well as the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Baden has conducted more than 20,000 autopsies during his career. From 1981 to 1983, he was employed as the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for Suffolk County in New York. He is currently co-director for the Medico-legal Investigative Unit of the New York State Police. As a forensic pathologist with a private practice, Baden travels around the country providing expert witness testimony. He testified for the defense in the case of Claus Von Bulow, accused of murdering his wife with an injection of insulin, and the trial of actor Marlon Brando's son Christian, who shot his sister's lover. He participated in the exhumation of the body of civil rights worker Medgar Evers when Mississippi decided to re-open the murder case thirty years after Evers' 1963 killing by a white supremacist. Baden's popular reputation has given him a second career as a media star. He has authored two popular books on pathology for a lay audience and regularly appears on television shows devoted to autopsies.
see also Autopsy; Crime scene investigation; Expert witnesses; Kennedy assassination; Pathology.