Anatomy Act 1832

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The Anatomy Act 1832 (2 & 3 Will. IV c.75) was an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom that gave freer licence to doctors, teachers of anatomy and bona fide medical students to dissect donated bodies. It was enacted in response to public revulsion at the illegal trade in corpses.

Background[edit]

Before 1832 the Murder Act 1752 stipulated that only the corpses of executed murderers could be used for dissection. By the early nineteenth century the rise of medical science, occurring at the same time as a reduction in the number of executions, had caused demand to outstrip supply.

Around 1810 an anatomical society was formed to impress on the government the necessity for altering the law. Among its members were John Abernethy, Charles Bell, Everard Home, Benjamin Brodie, Astley Cooper and Henry Cline. The efforts of this body gave rise in 1828 to a select committee to report on the question. The report of this committee led to the Bill and public revulsion at the recent West Port murders swayed opinion in favour of a change in the law. In 1831 public outcry at the activities of the London Burkers caused further pressure for a Bill.

Passage of the Bill[edit]

Public sentiment notwithstanding, there was substantial opposition to the Bill.

... they tell us it was necessary for the purposes of science. Science? Why, who is science for? Not for poor people. Then if it be necessary for the purposes of science, let them have the bodies of the rich, for whose benefit science is cultivated.

William Cobbett[1]

In 1829 the College of Surgeons petitioned against it, and it was withdrawn in the House of Lords owing to the opposition of the Archbishop of Canterbury William Howley.

In 1832 a new Anatomy Bill was introduced, which, though strongly opposed by Hunt, Sadler and Vyvyan, was supported by Macaulay and O'Connell. It was passed by the House of Lords on 19 July 1832.

Provisions of the Act[edit]

The Act provided that anyone intending to practise anatomy hasd to obtain a licence from the Home Secretary. Usually one or two teachers in each institution took out this licence, and hence were known as licensed teachers. They accepted responsibility for the proper treatment of all bodies dissected in the building for which their licence was granted.

Regulating these licensed teachers, and receiving constant reports from them, were four inspectors of anatomy, one each for London, the rest of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, who reported to the Home Secretary, and knew the whereabouts of every body being dissected.

The principal provision of the Act was section 7, which stipulated that a person having lawful possession of a body could permit it to undergo "anatomical examination" (dissection) provided that no relative objected. Most of the other sections were subsidiary, detailing the methods for carrying section 7 into effect.

In addition, section 16 repealed parts of sections 4 and 5 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828, which had consolidated several provisions from several earlier statutes and had retained the provisionj of 1752 that the bodies of murderers were to be hung in chains or dissected after execution. Section 16 provided instead that such bodies were to be either hung in chains or buried within the precincts of the last prison in which the deceased had been confined. The provision for hanging in chains was repealed by the Hanging in Chains Act 1834, and the whole section was repealed and replaced by section 3 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

The Anatomy Act provided for the needs of physicians, surgeons and students by giving them legal access to corpses that were unclaimed after death, in particular corpses of those who had died in prison or a workhouse.

Further, a person could donate the corpse of a next of kin in exchange for burial at the expense of the anatomy school. Occasionally a person, following the example of Jeremy Bentham, left their own body for dissection in the name of the advancement of science, but even then, if the person's relatives objected, it was not received.

The Act was effective in ending the practice of resurrectionists, who robbed graves as a means of obtaining corpses for medical study.[citation needed]

Mobs continued to protest against the Act into the 1840s, in the belief that it still failed to prevent the sale of paupers' bodies for medical research without their consent. An anatomical theatre in Cambridge was vandalised late in 1833 "by an angry mob determined to put a stop to the dissection of a man; this wave of popular protest alarmed the medical profession who resolved to hide its activities from the general public, and to a greater or lesser extent it has been doing so ever since".[2]

Repeal[edit]

The Act was repealed by the Anatomy Act 1984, which was, in turn, repealed by the Human Tissue Act 2004. Access to corpses for the purposes of medical science is now regulated by the Human Tissue Authority. However, in Scotland it is still governed by amendments (under the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006) to the existing Anatomy Act, and Scotland retains an Inspector of Anatomy. [2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Crowther, J. G. (1965). Statesmen of Science. London: Cresset Press. p. 9. 
  2. ^ a b Hurren, Elizabeth (May 2002). "Patients' rights: from Alder Hey to the Nuremberg Code". History & Policy (in English). United Kingdom: History & Policy. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bates, A. W. (2010). The Anatomy of Robert Knox: Murder, Mad Science, and Medical Regulation. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-84519-381-2. 
  • Lonsdale, H. (1870). Sketch of the Life and Writings of Robert Knox the Anatomist. London: Macmillan. 
  • Macalister, A. (1910). James Macartney: A Memoir. 
  • MacDonald, H.P. (2005). Human Remains: Episodes in Human Dissection. ISBN 0-522-85157-6. 
  • Richardson, R. (2001). Death, Dissection and the Destitute. ISBN 0-226-71240-0. 
  • Rosner, L. (2009). The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-4191-4. 

External links[edit]