Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Career change to unravel stories told by the dead


"Examining a dead body is like listening to a ghost telling a story," a forensic pathologist with the Taoyuan Prosecutor's Office in northern Taiwan said yesterday.

"As a child, I liked to listen to the bizarre ghost stories my father used to tell. Nowadays, my job requires me to explore the truth behind dead bodies, " said Lin Shang-an (林尚安), who became a forensic pathologist last November after having practiced medicine for 15 years.

Lin, a former neurologist at the Taipei Municipal Jen Ai Hospital, said that in the past, he dedicated himself to saving the lives of his patients.

"Now, however, I focus on probing the `wordless last will and testament' of a dead person as told by his or her corpse," said the "novice" forensic pathologist.

Over the past few months, Lin said, many of his new colleagues have asked him whether there are great differences between serving as a clinician and as a forensic pathologist.

"I haven't seen many differences between the two roles. Previously, I treated live people and often had to make desperate efforts to find cures for critically ill patients. Nowadays, I examine the remains of those who have died under suspicious circumstances and have to cudgel my brain to find out the cause of their death," Lin said, adding that both jobs require the devotion of enormous amounts of time and energy.

Lin said he has examined more than 220 cases since assuming his post at the Taoyuan Prosecutor's Office. "I have learned a lot through my work. Although the pay is much lower, I don't care and my wife supports my decision to shift into this demanding profession, " he added with a smile.

The 48-year-old Lin describes himself as a "man with an insatiable appetite for knowledge." He began as a student at the electrical engineering department of the prestigious National Taiwan University (NTU) but dropped out after his father's death.

"My father wanted me to study medicine and I defied his wishes to study electrical engineering. However, his sudden death prompted me to rethink my decision. I decided to take the university entrance examination again to enter medical college," Lin recalled.

A year later, he passed the hotly contested examination and enrolled in the NTU's department of medicine. After graduating, he took a position at Jen Ai hospital, where he worked his way from a resident doctor to a specialist neurologist during a 15-year career.

"I chose neurology because it is a delicate and sophisticated medical field. Diagnosis and treatment of neurological diseases are full of challenges and require innovation," Lin explained.

But Lin said his job sometimes caused him frustration when he would come across incurable neurological diseases.

Four years ago, Lin said, he decided to study law. "I became a freshman again, using my leisure time to attend an NTU educational program for people with jobs."

Lin obtained a bachelor's degree in law from NTU last summer. With professional expertise in both medicine and law, Lin decided to join the ranks of forensic pathologists.

"I would like to be a pioneer in this profession to boost the development of forensic science and help unravel criminal cases," he said.

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