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Clin Anat. 2007 Jul;20(5):489-95.

The poor, the Black, and the marginalized as the source of cadavers in United States anatomical education.

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Radiation Oncology, University of Louisville, School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky 40202-3866, USA.


When the practice of hands-on anatomical dissection became popular in United States medical education in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, demand for cadavers exceeded the supply. Slave bodies and thefts by grave robbers met this demand. Members of the public were aware that graves were being robbed and countered with various protective measures. Since the deterrence of grave robbing took time and money, those elements of society who were least economically and socially advantaged were the most vulnerable. Enslaved and free African Americans, immigrants, and the poor were frequently the target of grave robbing. The politically powerful tolerated this behavior except when it affected their own burial sites. Slave owners sold the bodies of their deceased chattel to medical schools for anatomic dissection. Stories of the "night doctors" buying and stealing bodies became part of African American folklore traditions. The physical and documentary evidence demonstrates the disproportionate use of the bodies of the poor, the Black, and the marginalized in furthering the medical education of white elites.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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