History of Cadaver Dissections (Brief)

The history of human dissections begins with Herophilus, a greek anatomist (330BC) who performed dissections on criminals’ cadavers, in Alexandria where he founded the 1st anatomy school in the region. Another important figure to consider is Galen (AD 130 – 201) who trained in Alexandria, and is thought to have gathered most of his knowledge from animal dissections; he assumed that the structures found in animals are similar to that in humans. His publications dominated medicine till medieval times, although during his time human dissections were not prohibited, it is though that he performed secret dissections of living slaves/prisoners to satisfy his curiosity. The first manual on dissections was published by an Italian surgeon, De Luzzi in 1315, despite religious restrictions and beliefs as scientific interest in human anatomy continued. It was around the 16th century that innovative minds of such people as Vesalius (1514-1564), and anatomist in Italy, began to revolutionize medicine. In his time the church relaxed prohibitions on cadaveric dissections, mainly to allow autopsies in cases of suspicious death. His work challenged Galenic texts, identified his errors, and proved them though dissections. Dissections gradually found its way into medical courses throughout Europe.

In 1565 the royal college of physicians in London was given permission to perform dissection on human cadavers, and as research grew so did the demand for cadavers which were obtained from criminals (whereby dissection was considered an extra punishment in addition to death sentences) and bodies of the unclaimed poor. Regardless of the above supply demands for cadavers continued to increase, and eventually outwit the supply, hence the emergence of grave robbing. Grave robbers were either surgeons/anatomists or individuals hired by them (or institutions like medical schools), medical students were also involved. By the 1970s this became a common thing in London. The bodies of poor individuals were an easier target (since the poor were ill equipped to protect the bodies of their deceased). This lead to the science of anatomy developing a negative reputation, within society. Murders were also committed as a source of cadavers, and all the above events eventually lead to great public desire to stop grave robbing, and hence the 1st anatomy bill in 1829 that recommended the use of cadavers from hospitals and public houses, however this had some negative consequences on the poor, which led to the rejection of the bill. Eventually the 1832 act sanctioned bequests as a prime source of cadavers for dissection, dissection as a punishment fro criminals was also abolished. And until 1930s most of the bodies obtained for dissection were from institutions housing the poor and asylums (though this probably an unintended consequence of the act – at least initially – the bodies were unclaimed), and it was until 1960s that bequests exceeded 70 percent of all cadavers dissected. I believe that the British anatomy act of 1832 was also adopted in Australia as a means of obtaining cadavers. A similar history of events was also found In the US.

New Zealand History

The University of Otago Medical School which began in 1975, created the need to cadavers in the area, initially the cadavers all came from hospitals (1876-1886), and a benevolent houses only began providing cadavers from 1887 onwards, and became the main source till 1920s, mental hospitals also ended up in the source list first appearing in 1897, and began to be heavily used from 1905 to almost 1930. The first bequest was noted in 1943, becoming more frequent and eventually being the main source in the 1960s. The New Zealand legislations concerning cadavers commenced with the 1875 anatomy act which followed the patterns of the British act of 1832 and 1871.

In almost all of the circumstances there seems to be a steady increase in bequests over time, reasons why;

1. Growing awareness of the role and value of scientific medicine

2. Growing disbelief of the spiritual significance of the dead body

3. Change in social meaning of the corpse – as shown by the popularity of cremation

4. Changing attitudes toward poverty

source: article on blackboard, saladin, http://www.bookrags.com/research/dissection-woh/


~ by pcl4 on July 16, 2008.

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