SINGAPORE - Malaysian entrepreneur Matt Chandran wants to revive the moribund post-mortem by replacing the scalpel with a scanner and the autopsy slab with a touchscreen computer.
He believes his so-called digital autopsy could largely displace the centuries-old traditional knife-bound one, speeding up investigations, reducing the stress on grieving families and placating religious sensibilities.
He is confident there's money in what he calls his Autopsy as a Service, and hopes to launch the first of at least 18 digital autopsy facilities in Britain in October, working closely with local authorities.
Around 70 million people die each year, says Chandran, and around a tenth of those deaths are medico-legal cases that require an autopsy. "That's a huge number, so we're of the view that this is a major line of services that is shaping up around the world," he said in an interview.
The poor common perception of autopsies has undermined their commercial appeal. "Unfortunately, because the process of the post-mortem is seen as gruesome, one tends to ignore that," says Chandran.
Humans have been cutting each other open for at least 3,000 years to learn more about death, but the autopsy has never been widely embraced outside TV crime dramas. Surgeons in 18th century Britain, for example, robbed graves for corpses to dissect, some even commissioning murders when supplies dried up.
By the 1950s, the autopsy was at its zenith, with pathologists performing post-mortems on more than 60 per cent of those who died in the United States and Europe - helping uncover more than 80 major, and perhaps thousands of minor, medical conditions.
But the number of autopsies has fallen steadily: Today, fewer than 20 per cent of deaths in Britain are followed by autopsy, and most of these are ordered by coroners in cases where the cause of death is unclear or disputed.
The fall has been blamed on a growing distaste for a procedure regarded by some as crude and outdated - a feeling fanned by the public discovery in Britain in 1999 that medical institutions had been retaining organs and tissue after post-mortems for decades.