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The Select Committee enquiry of 1828

"A Bill to prevent unlawful disinterrment and to regulate schools of anatomy"

By 1828, the public and, indeed the medics themselves, were no longer prepared to tolerate the existing method of obtaining bodies for examination and a Select Committee to "enquire into the manner of obtaining subjects for dissection by schools of Anatomy and the State of law affecting persons employed in obtaining and dissecting bodies" was appointed.

Sir Astley Cooper informed the Committee that there were at that time 700 students of anatomy in London and the numbers of bodies annually supplied to them was about 450. This was considered totally inadequate as estimates of the number of cadavers needed to be dissected by each student varied between 4 and 12. Although the Committee's report was decidedly in favour of a change in the law, there were many objections to the new proposal. The College of Surgeons objected to Commissioners interfering with their privileges, and the smaller anatomy schools feared that licences would only be granted to the larger ones. The Lancet called it a "Bill for preventing Country Surgeons from Studying Anatomy"

1831 Murders !
Public feeling, now strongly in favour of some change in the law, was greatly intensified by some horrible murders perpetrated in London by three men, Bishop, Williams and May. Their ultimate atrocity was the murder of a 14 year old Italian boy whose body they tried to sell at Guys Hospital for 12 guineas. When refused, they moved on to Kings College where a demonstrator became suspicious and called the police. This incident did much to accelerate the progress of the Anatomy Bill which finally became law on 1 st August 1832.

1832 Anatomy Act :
This Act empowered the Home Secretary to grant licences for anatomical purposes to any person qualified to practice, on application signed by 2 J.P's. and allowed a person to bequeath his body for anatomical study.

1984 Anatomy Act
"An act to make provision about the use of bodies of deceased persons, and parts of such bodies, for anatomical examination and about the possession and disposal of bodies of deceased persons, and parts of such bodies, authorised to be used for anatomical examination, and for connected purposes."

The Act defines anatomical examination as:
examination by dissection of a body for purposes of teaching or studying, or researching into, morphology.

It covers:

Acquisition and disposal of bodies.
Where bodies can be kept and anatomical examination carried out
Who can carry out anatomical examinations
Regulation of the Act.


This page has been visited Since May 2003
University of Bristol, Department of Anatomy, D-mis,
Southwell Street, Bristol BS2 8EJ, UK - Tel: +44 (0)117 928 8345
Updated 13/07/2004 - D-mis -MK