From Sacrilege to Privilege: The Tale of Body Procurement for Anatomical Dissection in the United States

Raphael Hulkower


Anatomical dissection remains an integral part of most medical schools’ curricula, and in order to meet their educational
needs, schools turn to a mixture of donated and unclaimed bodies. However, the procurement of bodies for
anatomical dissection has not always been a simple task. The history of the cadaver supply in the United States, as
in many other countries, is a story of crime, punishment, and legal dilemmas. The method by which medical schools
obtain cadavers has affected not only anatomists and medical students, but all members of society. Methods of procurement
through the centuries have been able to change only along with concurrent changes in societal perceptions
of death and dissection. An appreciation of this history and these societal changes may benefit students in their
struggles to come to terms with how their cadavers were obtained and how society has granted them the privilege
to dissect a fellow human’s body.


procurement; anatomical dissection;

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