Margaret Brazier
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Honouring the dead
Commodifying the corpse
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Chapter 10 considers aspects of English law relating to the human corpse. The need for bodies and their parts long precedes the advent of organ transplants. Human dissection was crucial to understanding the human body and thus developing medicine. The first part of the chapter charts measures to meet the gap between supply and demand, including bodysnatching, robbing the grave of recently deceased persons and selling the corpse to the surgeons. The inadequacy of the law and the shaky authority of the so-called ‘no property in a corpse rule’ is exposed. The second part focuses on the introduction of legislation expressly designed to regulate anatomy, the Anatomy Act 1832 which triggered riots and the burning of an anatomy school. The process of law-making which culminated in the 1832 Act is shown to mark a radically increased respect on the part of legislators to biomedical science, in sharp difference to the more sceptical approach of the judges. And as with abortion laws, medical practitioners acquired a strong voice in debates on the law, a voice not limited to the science, but also addressing the moral and social issues.

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