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most perfect knowledge, he is able, of his profession; and for that purpose to study thoroughly the structure and functions of the human body; in which study he can only succeed by frequent and repeated dissection. But his wants cannot adequately be supplied in this country, except at an expense, amounting nearly to a prohibition, which can be afforded only by the most wealthy, and precludes many students from dissecting altogether. From the precariousness or insufficiency of the supply, the dissections and lectures are often suspended for many weeks, during which the pupils are exposed to the danger of acquiring habits of dissipation and indolence; and, from the same causes, that important part of surgical education is usually omitted, which consists in teaching how to perform on the dead body those operations which the student may afterwards be required to practise on the living. But not only does the student find dissection expensive and difficult of attainment; but he cannot practise.it, without either committing an infringement of the law himself, or taking an advantage of one committed by others. In the former case he must expose himself to imminent hazard, and in either, he may incur severe penalties, and be exposed to public obloquy: The law, through the medium of the authorities entrusted with conferring diplomas, and of the boards deputed by them to examine candidates for public service, requires satisfactory proof of proficiency in Anatomical Science, although there are no means of acquiring that proficiency without committing daily offences against the law. The illegality and the difficulties attending the acquisition of the science, dispose the examiners in some cases to relax the strictness of their examination, and induce them, in the case of the Apothecaries Company, to dispense with dissection altogether ; the persons to whom çertificates are granted by the examiners of this Company, being those who, from their numbers * and extensive practice, ought especially, for the safety of the public, to be well instructed. The annual number of certificates so granted exceeds 400.
To cure such a state of things as this is manifestly a public duty; and if the most advisable plan carry with it the exceeding advantage of annihilating the system of exhumation, surely such an arrangement should join the efforts of all well-wishers of their species in the furtherance of its success.
The plan, then, which has been proposed is, that the bodies of all who die in hospitals, the infirmaries of workhouses, and similar establishments, and remain unclaimed for a given time, should be delivered up for dissection, with proper security from the surgeon that the burial rites should be performed. In this case no feelings could be injured for if there were any friends who objected to the dissection, his claiming the body would prevent its being subjected to it, yet would not saddle him with the expense of the burial. Many are buried at the expense of the parish, whose friends do follow them to the grave. These persons would not come within the class designated. There would be here no feelings to injure; the great end would be answered, and by means totally irreproachable. The supply derivable from this source, it is unanimously agreed, would be thoroughly and amply sufficient.
Still, there was one point on which we confess we had some doubts -and most glad we are to find, from another unanimous opinion of the surgeons examined, that they were quite unfounded. The only possible objection which suggested itself to us as against this regulation, was that the belief, or still more the certainty, of dissection following death, might painfully affect the mind of the patient while still living. But every one gives testimony against this; -Mr. Brodie says
* Computed at 10,000 in England and Wales.
I believe it is the case in some hospitals, at any rate it used to be so, that the bodies cannot be examined without the form of permission of the friends ; in our hospital * it has always been considered as a rule that every body who died was to be examined, and we have had no difficulty about it; perhaps, once in two or three years, there comes a poor woman to pray
that her child or her sister may not be examined, because it was her wish that she should not; but it is very rarely that there is any such application, either before or after death; they consider the examination as a matter of course, and think nothing about it.-148. Is it your opinion that the dislike to the practice of the examination is on the decrease ? --I believe so.—149. Should you extend the same remark to the practice of dissection ?-Examination is in fact dissection to a certain extent; the more people's minds are familiarized to dissection, the less they think of it. Those who live in the neighbourhood of an anatomical school think nothing about it.
Mr. Abernethy speaks still more strongly:
197. At the time of adding the dissecting establishment to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, did you find that the number of persons claiming admission fell off ?-Not at all.--198. You do not believe it would occasion any alteration ?-I am sure it would not; there is a hospital in this town where the poor know that the most of the bodies are dissected, and yet applications for admission there are as numerous as in other hospitals; the poor go into hospitals because they are ill and in a state of penury; and do not think that they are to die there; or if they do, they care not what is to become of their remains.
Mr. Lawrence thus expresses his similarity of opinion :239. Do you anticipate any indisposition, on the part of patients or their friends, to their being sent to hospitals, in case of the unclaimed bodies being given up in every instance to dissection ?-Not the least; I quite agree with Mr. Abernethy upon that point.
We have given the words of these very eminent persons, because we think the being thoroughly satisfied as to the effect upon the mind of the patient must be of the highest gratification to every humane person. What we are about to extract relates, for the most part, to the feelings of the friends; but there are some very strong points as to the patients themselves, and the whole is we think in the highest degree encouraging. It is from the evidence of Dr. Southwood Smith, lecturer on physiology at the Well-street school in the Borough, and author of an essay, entitled, “ The Use of the Dead to the Living,”—the whole of whose evidence seems to us so valuable and so well-given in every way, that we should be most happy to reprint the whole of it, if our space at all permitted its possibility :
983. Do you wish to add in any point to your evidence ? - There is one point which I wish to say a word about; I think we cannot pay too much deference to the feelings of the poor, indeed of all classes ; but from what I have observed, I should infer that these feelings are neither so strong nor so difficult to be removed as is commonly imagined: I form this opinion from what I have observed in the analogous case of inspecting the body after death. When I first began to practise in London, I became attached to one of the principal dispensaries; often there was a very great objection in the minds of the friends of those who died, to allow an examination after death; but I found that by reasoning with the poor, and explaining to them
* St. George's. FEBRUARY, 1829.
the importance of such inspection, I could generally succeed in obtaining their consent; ultimately I found but very little difficulty, and it was always greatly lessened by allowing the friends to be present. I observed that they attended to what was going on with great calmness and interest; I re. collect no instance of a relative or friend having been present at such examination, who did not become convinced by it of its usefulness and importance; and in very many instances I went away, receiving the warmest thanks of the people for what I had done. I may state that the same result has been obtained at the London Fever Hospital. I am one of the physicians to the London Fever Institution. In that institution a considerable number of persons die annually; it had been the rule never to examine any one there without the consent of friends; we hardly ever meet with any difficulty, and when any objection does exist, it can generally be removed by reasoning the matter with the friends that come to claim the dead. The Irish, of whom there is always a great number in the hospital, must be excepted. We have hitherto not been able to make any impression upon them ; latterly, however, we have examined the bodies of all the Irish that have died, without consent; there was some clamour at first; it is now a good deal subsided; and I wish particularly to direct the attention of the committee to the fact, that although it is now known to these people that the body is invariably examined after death, it has not had the least effect in deterring them from entering the hospital.-984. Are the committee to *collect from your answer, that you think a mistake is made in behaving towards the public with secrecy and mystery upon this subject; and that you think much may be done by taking proper pains and precaution, and by reasoning with them on the use of dissection ?-I think so; I think, in the state of mind at present prevailing in the British public, the poorer classes are as much open to conviction as those above them, and perhaps more so ; that they are quite able to perceive the reasonableness of the measure if it were properly represented; and that their feeling is so good, that they would ultimately acquiesce in it.
We now come to a point on which we are rather inclined to differ from the general opinion. Most-indeed we cannot at this moment lay our hand upon any exception—of the witnesses who were asked the question, whether the proposed arrangement should be permissive or mandatory,—namely whether the parish and hospital officers should be compellable, or only allowed, to give up unclaimed bodies, answered they would rather have it permissive only. They assert that a compulsory act would not carry the feelings of the public along with it, which most of them think the other might. It seems to us that these gentlemen overlook that it is only the unclaimed bodies which it is proposed to subject to this law. Relations are not to be deprived of their deceased friends. But this plan of option would throw that option entirely into the hands of the parish overseers, and the officers of hospitals a measure, we think, very much calculated to give rise to abuses. Still, if the public mind would go along with this measure, and would not with the other, we should be contented with this last. But we really cannot see the distinction. Let it be borne in mind that none but unclaimed bodies would be liable, and we are at a loss to conceive how granting a discretion to official persons wholly uninterested about them should have a ten ncy to propitiate the public. If, however, it could once be made clear that it did, the minor enactment would, beyond doubt, still be a gift of exceeding value to
There is one objection, concerning both suggestions, on which we must say a few words :-or rather we will borrow the words of the Report to speak for us. We trust that those who have read our work since the commencement of the present series, will need no assurance in words that we should shrink with disgust from any measure that would betray the least tendency to shew favour to the rich at the expense of the poor--that is, of the few and fortunate as contradistinguished from the many and wretched :
“ It may be argued, perhaps, that the principle of selection, according to the plan proposed, is not just, as it would not affect equally all classes of the public; since the bodies to be chosen would, necessarily, be those of the poor only. To this it may be replied, Ist, -that even were the force of this objection to a certain degree admitted, yet that, to judge fairly of the plan, its inconveniences must be compared with those of the existing system ; which system, according to the evidence adduced, is liable in a great measure to the same objection ; since the bodies exhumated are principally those of the poor * ; 2dly,—that the evils of this, or of any other plan to be proposed on this subject, must be judged of by the distress which it would occasion to the feelings of surviving relations; and the unfairness to one or another class of the community,—by the degree of distress inflicted on one class rather than another ; but where there are no relations to suffer distress, there can be no inequality of suffering, and consequently no unfairness shewn to one class more than another.”
The poor are also, in another way, more interested than the rich in the diffusion of surgical and medical knowledge. The rich can always procure the best assistance; the poor must have recourse to the apothecary in the next village. It is, therefore, most highly their interest that professional education should be widely-spread and sound. Almost every witness uses language to this effect.
The following extract from Sir Astley Cooper's evidence will, we think, bring the practical part of the subject to a close :
79. If the practice of giving up the unclaimed bodies from workhouses were rendered legal, under what regulations would you propose to place the distribution of the bodies ?—There I should revert to my idea of having a Director of Anatomy, so that there should be the most perfect impartiality in the distribution of the bodies, that every thing should be conducted de cently, that the fees should be paid, and the funeral rites known to be performed; and when such a director was appointed, I think there would be no difficulty.
We thoroughly agree with Sir Astley, that an establishment of the nature suggested by him would, in the proper regulations of detail,
• This is proved, by three of the exhumators, as arising from the more slight burial. One of them says that by one digging he has got three or four bodies, and that during the several years he has been in the regular habit of supplying the schools he never got half-a-dozen of wealthier people.” This witness is represented by Dr. Somerville, Mr. Brodie's assistant, as really living by the supplying bodies, that is, that he is not a thief as well. He himself says that there are forty or fifty men in London who profess to be resurrectionists, but that there are only two besides himself who get their living by it—the others make it a cloak and help to robberies of all kinds—for the police are instructed to connive at men employed in exhumation. This man's evidence is not only highly curious and characteristic, but very instructive also.-ED.
answer admirably. But we should wish to see anatomical schools extended to some of the chief provincial towns, at which, under the proposed system, we doubt not students might receive excellent education, without being forced up to London, at a distance from their friends, and at a heavy, and often embarrassing, expense.
It is also proposed to repeal the existing law, which gives the bodies of executed murderers to dissection. With this we very readily concur. The supply derived from that source is next to nothing, -and the practice certainly does give legislative sanction to the prejudices against dissection, inasmuch as it is thus awarded as part of the punishment of the crime the most terrible to our nature. The idea that there is any thing in the least degrading in dissection ought, above all things, to be removed from the minds of the people.
We hope that most of our readers, who have gone through the foregoing pages, will agree with us:-1. That the knowledge of anatomy is necessary
for any proficiency in medical science.—2. That the only possible means of acquiring that knowledge is by the dissection of dead bodies.-3. That the present supply of subjects for dissection, in this country, is grossly insufficient; and that its mode is open to moral objections of the darkest order.—4. That a plan for the remedy of this deficiency has been suggested by the Committee on Anatomy of last year, alike effective, and consonant with reason, feeling, and religion.
So strongly does our own conviction go along with these propositions that, while we express our most hearty and grateful thanks to the Committee for its admirably conducted labours, we earnestly entreat them not to let sleep their recommendation of a bill being introduced into parliament in the approaching session, to give effect to their philanthropic views.
We said, we believe, at the opening of this article, that we should, during the course of it, devote some attention to the subject of the prejudices against dissection altogether. We find that we have not done so-nor, now,
As the case stands, those prejudices are avoided. No general antipathy to anatomy, or its means, at all exists. It is only when it comes home-when dissection is to take place with regard to beloved objects, that the prejudice--for, amiable, and indicative of many of the best and most beautiful feelings, as we willingly own it to bemstill, it is a prejudice ;—it is only then, that it arises. Alas! this is one of the fast diminishing number of cases, in which, when Reason has operated undeniable conviction upon the mind, Feeling still creeps in, and causes strong pain that the opinion should be held, even when it is unable to destroy it*. But, in the plan which we have advocated, this sentiment may remain undisturbed. The measure proposed has the delightful merit of doing no injury and giving no offence to any one, whilst its effects would incalculably tend to promote the first physical blessing of mankind-HEALTH.
* We have called these cases fast diminishing, because, thank heaven ! we thoroughly believe that Reason and Feeling agree better and better every day the world grows older.