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Wurzbg Medizinhist Mitt. 2005;24:162-79.

[Between science and moral injury--dead human bodies' treatment in anatomy and pathology during early modern times].

[Article in German]

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  • 1Institut für Geschichte der Medizin der Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 327, 69120 Heidelberg.


In this essay the history of anatomy and pathology between the 16th and the 19th century is focused under the two aspects of scientific development and of moral injury. In anatomy, which came along as a special field of theoretical medicine in 16th century, the human corpse was used as a suitable and to an increasing degree legitimate model of the healthy living body. About two hundred years later, even pathology started to be transformed into pathological anatomy. While anatomists were dealing with the structure of the healthy body pathological anatomists were interested in the morbid changes of the human corpse; the pathologist perceived the dead body as a static model of the dynamic pathological process in the living patient. Anatomy came along in the era of Renaissance and Humanism not least because of a close connection between science and the fine arts, whereas its practical relevance during the 16th and the 17th century resulted from a preparatory function for army surgery. The corpses of executed criminals, infanticides, and of unmarried mothers who had died from natural causes were often used for anatomical purposes including public autopsy. Pathological anatomy, however, unfolded its power not until the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century when a new medical institution had been established: the clinic. The physical methods of examination such as percussion and auscultation of the patient's body could now be reviewed by the results of a post-mortem autopsy. The growing influence of pathological anatomy during 19th century medicine was reflected by a modified perception and evaluation of disease: The spatial dimensions of the visible findings received priority to the chronological development of the process of disease with the consequence of a heightened risk of separating the pathological structures from the suffering patient's biographical context. For the gain to scientism pathological anatomy had to tolerate a loss of reality, replacing the complexity of "heart and soul" by a reductionist model of the dead body.

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