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Clin Anat. 2014 Sep;27(6):839-43. doi: 10.1002/ca.22405. Epub 2014 Apr 19.

Using and respecting the dead human body: an anatomist's perspective.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


In his stimulating article enquiring into what the living owe the dead, Wilkinson (2013, Clin. Anat. DOI: 10.1002/ca.22263) sought to unpack a range of ethical questions of considerable interest to anatomists. In this, he looked closely at the extent to which we are or are not to respect all the prior wishes of the deceased, and the implications of this for the role of the family in providing consent, the use of unclaimed bodies, and the public display of bodies. Some of his conclusions challenge widely encountered views by anatomists. In this response I have re-visited these topics in an attempt to ground his arguments in the experience of anatomists, by emphasizing the many intimate connections that exist between each of these areas. The following emerge as issues for further debate. I accept that the wishes of the deceased are preeminent, so that authorities should make every effort to abide by these. This reiterates the importance of body bequests over against unclaimed bodies, and provides a context for assessing the role of family consent. This has repercussions for all activities employing dead bodies, from the dissecting room to public plastination exhibitions. In determining the extent to which the wishes of the deceased are followed the input of other interested parties is a relevant consideration. An ethical assessment of the public display of bodies needs to take into account the nature of the plastination process.


bequests; family consent; informed consent; plastination exhibitions; unclaimed bodies

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