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Clin Anat. 2014 Apr;27(3):286-90. doi: 10.1002/ca.22263. Epub 2013 May 29.

Respect for the dead and the ethics of anatomy.

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Department of Political Studies, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.


Dead bodies are not persons but nor are they just things. What, ethically speaking, do the living owe the dead when it comes to using their bodies in anatomy? The article begins with the general question of respect for the dead. It distinguishes between why we should respect the dead, how we should respect them, and the weight to be given to respect. It sets out an account of the reason to respect the dead based on their interests. The article then turns to how the dead should be respected and the importance of doing so. Specifically, it considers three ethical issues in anatomy: the role of the family, the use of unclaimed bodies, and the public display of bodies donated for that purpose. This article claims that what it is to respect the dead is substantially determined by their wishes. Nonetheless the article argues that respect is consistent with allowing the family to veto anatomical use even when the deceased has consented because respect for the dead does not require following all their possible wishes. Respect is also consistent with using unclaimed bodies to which no one--deceased or family--has consented because the interests of the dead do not directly require consent and the interests of the family are unlikely to be relevant. Finally, the article does not see anything disrespectful in the public display of the bodies of those who have consented.


consent; ethics of anatomy; public display; respect for the dead; unclaimed bodies

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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