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Saturday, 25 October 2014


Herophilus (335–280 BC),  a Greek surgeon and anatomist was the first doctor to carry out dissections for the study of disease, some of which were undertaken on still-alive criminals from the royal prison. He was the first doctor to carry out post-mortem examinations and to dissect the human body then compare it with other animals.

The first dissection of a human corpse for many centuries was carried out by Mondino dei Liuzzi in Bologna in 1315. It had to be done in secret as the Roman Catholic Church forbade the dissection of the human body.

The Papacy sanctioned post-mortems in 1350 to search for the cause of the Black Death.

The first public dissection took place in Montpellier, France in 1375. However authorisation was quickly rescinded for reasons of obscenity.

At the end of the fourteenth century only a pope could grant permission of the odd criminal to be exhumed and cut open, albeit under the severest of restrictions.  One dissection a year was allowed at the University of Bologna. It took the form of a three-day ceremony prior to each Christmas and included a procession and exorcisms.

These early anatomical demonstrations were public spectacles, a combination of teaching, research and showmanship. The professor carrying the dissection sat on a high chair solemnly reading out relevant passages from the works of Galen, while his servant pointed to the organs alluded to and a dissector did the knife-work.

Pope Clement VII finally accepted the teaching of anatomy by dissection in 1537.

The inquisition forced the anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), who had transformed knowledge of the human body, to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to atone for dissecting human bodies. On the way home he was shipwrecked on a Greek island, where he starved to death.

Until 1832 it was illegal to dissect human bodies in England, so medical schools and doctors had to buy them from grave-robbers and hide them in case of raids. The phrase 'Skeleton in the cupboard', meaning, 'Something embarrassing to hide' comes from practice. William Thackeray, writer of Vanity Fair, used the phrase for the first time in print in 1845.

The Warburton Anatomy Act legalized the sale of bodies for dissection in England in 1832.

Source Daily Mail

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