Priv. Doz. Dr. Med. Thorsten Schwark, Head of the Legal Medicine Department at LNS; Credit: Olivier Minaire Photography for LNS

The Laboratoire National de Santé (LNS) has announced that it is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its Legal Medicine Department this year.

Already at the time of its foundation in 1897, the LNS was performing forensic medical tasks (autopsies and forensic photography). With the establishment of the Department of Toxicology in 1978, the foundation was laid for a modern institute of forensic medicine. Forensic Genetics followed in 2011, and finally Forensic Medicine was added in 2014. In August that same year, these departments were consolidated into the Department of Legal Medicine (Département de Médecine Légale - DML) that exists today.

Since summer 2018, the DML has also been offering the "umedo" service which is aimed at helping adult victims of physical and/or sexual violence who wish to document their case without pressing charges.

The DML, which currently employs 46 staff members, works mainly at the request of the Luxembourgish judicial authorities, but also at the order of the police and other government bodies.

Department in key figures (for 2023):

- The Medico-Judicial Service (SMJ) carried out 242 forensic examinations, including 141 autopsies. The main tasks of this service are to carry out forensic autopsies, forensic examinations of corpses and visits to places where corpses have been found. In addition, in the case of preliminary investigations, it carries out clinical examinations on living bodies. It also carries out various forensic examinations and provides forensic training. The department is part of the Grand Ducal Police's national Disaster Victim Identification team;

- The Genetic Identification Service (SIG) carried out more than 3,000 expert assessments. These expert analyses, based on molecular biology tools, provide objective evidence in legal cases, such as the determination of human genetic fingerprints or DNA profiles;

- The Forensic Toxicology Service (TML) analysed more than 6,700 samples. Since 1978, the TML has been the reference laboratory in Luxembourg for the analysis of direct alcohol consumption markers, the monitoring of patients in rehabilitation centres, people involved in cases of driving under the influence of alcohol,  industrial accidents, family litigations and crimes;

- 22 examinations to establish a medical report of physical and/or sexual violence were carried out within the umedo unit. The umedo forensic documentation service for victims of physical and/or sexual violence also received 79 telephone calls. The examination consists of drawing up a medical report of visible injuries and recording biological traces so that the victim has this evidence available in the event of any subsequent legal proceedings;

- The Analytical Chemistry Service (SCAN) has analysed more than 4,300 samples. The main tasks of the department are to identify and dosage of narcotics, as well as to control legal, falsified or counterfeit medicines and other products of unknown origin suspected of containing medicinal or illegal substances.

Another highlight over the years has been the participation of the service in the "pipapo" initiative of 4motion asbl. Since 2016, the “pipapo” initiative has been implementing harm reduction strategies in festive environments, addressing issues related to drugs, sexuality and overall party culture. The LNS added that on-site drug checking is a valuable tool for discussing with drug users and creating an awareness of potential dangers when consuming psychotropic substances. The Analytical Chemistry Service, together with 4motion asbl and the support from Luxembourg's Ministy of Justice and the Ministry of Health and Social Security, analyses drugs consumed at festivals.

Starting in summer 2024, laboratory analyses will be relocated and carried out directly at festival venues. This is expected to allow the obtention of faster results and to facilitate contacts and discussions with potential drug users, especially if suspected harmful substances are detected.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the DML, on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 June 2024, the Department of Forensic Medicine is hosting the spring conference of the DGRM (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Rechtsmedizin / German Society of Forensic Medicine) for the first time in Luxembourg, bringing together almost 100 international participants.

Priv. Doz. Dr. Med. Thorsten Schwark, Head of the DML at LNS, commented: "I am delighted that the Department of Legal Medicine has developed so positively in the ten years of its existence, and that it has become an integral part of Luxembourg's medical landscape."