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An Incredibly Brief and Totally Inadequate History of Human Anatomical Dissection.

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Presentation on theme: "An Incredibly Brief and Totally Inadequate History of Human Anatomical Dissection."— Presentation transcript:

1 An Incredibly Brief and Totally Inadequate History of Human Anatomical Dissection

2 History of Human Dissection Claudius Galen 129 – 217 AD – Greek physician and anatomist At the age of 28 Galen served as the chief surgeon to the High Priest of Asia who was the largest operator of gladiatorial games in Asia. By the age of 33 he was the personal physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180 AD) Human dissection was strictly forbidden in the Roman Empire so most of his research was limited to Barbary apes and pigs. His anatomical beliefs went uncontested for 1400 years. His textbooks were used well into the Renaissance

3 History of Human Dissection Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564) Physician and author of one of the most influential books on on human: De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body, 7 volumes)). Vesalius is often referred to as the founder of modern human anatomy Vesalius broke with Galen and showed that many of Galen’s interpretations of the human body were wrong. People were so vested in Galen’s beliefs that many believed that if Vesalius and found differences it is because peoples bodies had evolved in the intervening 1500 years.

4 Drawings from De humani corporis fabrica

5 History of Human Dissection Galen's theory of the physiology of the circulatory system endured until 1628, when William Harvey (British anatomist, 1578 – 1657) published his treatise entitled, De motu cordis, in which he established that blood circulates, with the heart acting as a pump. Medical students continued to study Galen's writings until well into the 19th century. Galen conducted many nerve ligation experiments that supported the theory, which is still accepted today, that the brain controls all the motions of the muscles by means of the cranial and peripheral nervous systems.

6 Human Dissection in Great Britain Whereas human dissection was permitted in Mainland Europe (The Catholic Church was not as strict as many people think) Human dissection was forbidden in Great Britain All dissections were forbidden until the mid-sixteenth century and even then it was quite limited By the mid-18th century, the Royal College of Physicians and Company of Barber-Surgeons were the only two groups permitted to carry out dissections, and had an annual quota of ten cadavers between them

7 Human Dissection in Great Britain With the rise of public and private medical schools the need for bodies increased. Pressure from anatomists led to the passage of the Murder Act 1752 which, allowed the bodies of executed murderers to be dissected for anatomical research and education.

8 Human Dissection in Great Britain A thriving black market arose in cadavers and body parts, leading to the creation of an entire profession of body-snatcher, and even more extremely, the infamous Burke and Hare murders in 1828, when 16 people were murdered (West Port murders, Edinburgh, Scotland) in order to sell their cadavers to anatomists. The resulting public outcry largely led to the passage of the Anatomy Act 1832, which greatly increased the legal supply of cadavers for dissection.

9 Children’s Poem about Burke and Hare Burke and Hare they were a pair, Killed a wife and didnae care, Then they put her in a box, And sent her off to Doctor Knox, Burkes the Butcher, Hares the thief, Knox is the yin that buys the beef!'

10 Burke and Hare 4ylM 4ylM Y Y

11 Human Dissection in the United States As in England, for much of the early history of America their was no legal method to obtain bodies for medical research and grave robbing of mostly black and impoverished people was quite common Grave robbers were referred to as “resurrection men”

12 Human Dissection in the United States In the United States, the pressing demand is likely to have begun around 1745, when the first formal course in anatomy was taught at the University of Pennsylvania

13 Human Dissection in the United States April 13 th, 1788 The “Doctor’s Riot” occurred at New York Medical College. A small boy climbed up a window and spied on a doctor dissecting a cadaver, when caught the doctor shouted, “it’s your mother” as it turns out when the father went to check on the recently deceased mother she had in fact been stolen from her grave (it was probably not the woman being dissected)

14 Human Dissection in the United States Over the next three days crowds attacked the school. The group grew to over 5000 when the Governor called in the militia to protect the doctors and students. When the dust settled three soldiers were killed and a dozen wounded. The following year New York passed the first anti- grave robbing laws in the United States and simultaneously allowed judges to sentence to dissection (after execution) those convicted of murder, arson, rape and burglary.

15 Human Dissection in the United States Nevertheless, as the law did not provide a sufficient legal method for medical schools to obtain their cadavers, schools continued acquiring bodies illegally and grave-robbers continued their trade

16 Human Dissection in the United States A major turning point in the ways bodies were obtained occurred when the body of Ohio congressman John Scott Harrison, son of William Henry Harrison (9 th President of the United States), was snatched in 1878 for Ohio Medical College, and discovered by his son Benjamin Harrison. This was not someone who was poor or black and proper society was enraged

17 Human Dissection in the United States Massachusetts was the first state to enact laws, in 1830 and 1833, allowing unclaimed bodies to be used for dissection. Over the course of the next decades, many other states followed suit, legislating that unclaimed bodies of people who died in hospitals, asylums, and prisons would be allocated to that state’s medical schools for the purpose of anatomical dissection. Due to these laws, the price of illegally obtained corpses declined, making grave-robbing neither profitable nor practical

18 University of Minnesota School of Medicine circa 1915

19 Human Dissection in the United States In 1968 the National Conference of the Commissioners on Uniform State Laws approved the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) The UAGA officially made body donation a right, morally based on free choice and volunteerism. A second act was signed in 1987 and served to clarify the donation process further. Together, these two acts, often still referred to as the UAGA, clarified ambiguous laws regarding donation and tried to standardize laws among states.

20 Why Did We Do This? I hope that a knowledge of the history of body procurement will allow you to appreciate the legal and ethical progress that society has made in order to make anatomical dissection a respectable act for both donor and recipient. There was a time when anatomical dissection was possible only when either the donor or the recipients had committed a crime. In our times, that same act is viewed as a privilege.

21 A modern medical school anatomy laboratory


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