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Human cadaveric dissection: a historical account from ancient Greece to the modern era.

Ghosh SK - Anat Cell Biol (2015)

Bottom Line: It particularly emphasizes on the different means of procuring human bodies which changed over the centuries in accordance with the increasing demand due to the rise in popularity of human dissection as a tool for teaching anatomy.Finally, it documents the rise of body donation programs as the source of human cadavers for anatomical dissection from the second half of the 20th century.Presently innovative measures are being introduced within the body donation programs by medical schools across the world to sensitize medical students such that they maintain a respectful, compassionate and empathetic attitude towards the human cadaver while dissecting the same.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Anatomy, ESI-PGIMSR & ESIC Medical College, Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

ABSTRACT
The review article attempts to focus on the practice of human cadaveric dissection during its inception in ancient Greece in 3rd century BC, revival in medieval Italy at the beginning of 14th century and subsequent evolution in Europe and the United States of America over the centuries. The article highlights on the gradual change in attitude of religious authorities towards human dissection, the shift in the practice of human dissection being performed by barber surgeons to the anatomist himself dissecting the human body and the enactment of prominent legislations which proved to be crucial milestones during the course of the history of human cadaveric dissection. It particularly emphasizes on the different means of procuring human bodies which changed over the centuries in accordance with the increasing demand due to the rise in popularity of human dissection as a tool for teaching anatomy. Finally, it documents the rise of body donation programs as the source of human cadavers for anatomical dissection from the second half of the 20th century. Presently innovative measures are being introduced within the body donation programs by medical schools across the world to sensitize medical students such that they maintain a respectful, compassionate and empathetic attitude towards the human cadaver while dissecting the same. Human dissection is indispensable for a sound knowledge in anatomy which can ensure safe as well as efficient clinical practice and the human dissection lab could possibly be the ideal place to cultivate humanistic qualities among future physicians in the 21st century.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus

Andreas Vesalius undertaking an anatomical lecture in Padua. A notable shift from the prevalent trend in medieval Italy as he is dissecting the human body himself. He is referring to Galen's text (prevalent textbook in anatomy in those days) which is open by the side of the cadaver. Vesalius is surrounded by his students in Padua and the general public viewing the dissection from the gallery. Image in public domain.
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Figure 3: Andreas Vesalius undertaking an anatomical lecture in Padua. A notable shift from the prevalent trend in medieval Italy as he is dissecting the human body himself. He is referring to Galen's text (prevalent textbook in anatomy in those days) which is open by the side of the cadaver. Vesalius is surrounded by his students in Padua and the general public viewing the dissection from the gallery. Image in public domain.

Mentions: Human cadaveric dissection was practiced in Italy from 13th century (mostly autopsies though), however in France it was officially conducted from middle of 14th century [38]. The Papal Bull issued by Pope Boniface VIII in 1299 was possibly responsible for this delay [17]. Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320), the French anatomist executed the first unauthorized human dissection in the University of Montpellier in 1315. Prior to this event Mondeville had taught anatomy at Montpellier from a series of full length anatomical illustrations [39]. Guy de Chauliac (1300-1368), the French surgeon after receiving his Master's degree in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Paris in 1325, went to the University of Bologna to study anatomy. Here he attended dissection sessions of his teacher Nicolla Bertuccio (?-1347) and took the style of teaching from dissected cadavers prevalent in Bologna on his return to France. His knowledge regarding cadaveric dissection was critical to the advancement of anatomical practices in France [40]. In 1340, human cadaveric dissections were made official in the University of Montpellier and in 1407 the first sanctioned dissection took place in the University of Paris [41]. By the beginning of 15th century, cadaveric dissection became a regular event for teaching and learning anatomy in French universities [6]. In 14th century France, the study of anatomy was mostly limited to the use of criminal bodies [42], however due to increased demand for cadavers by the turn of 15th century, anatomical dissections on bodies meant for post-mortem autopsy became common in French universities [41]. It may be mentioned here that during the middle of 14th century, the Papacy had sanctioned post-mortem examinations of human bodies [43]. Although France in 16th century was open minded about the use of human cadavers for scientific inquiry, however during the early part of the 16th century, as human dissection was still not sanctioned by the church (Pope Clement VII accepted the teaching of anatomy by dissection in 1537) hence it was practised only in the universities and the number of cadavers available were very few [3843]. It was under these circumstances that Andreas Vesalius arrived at the University of Paris in 1533, after completing his studies in the University of Louvain [44]. He stayed in Paris till 1536 and studied anatomy under Jean Guiter d'Andernach (1487-1574) and Jacques Dubois (1478-1555) before moving to Padua [4546]. His assertion was that in order to learn anatomy, one has to dissect human cadavers by himself. His efforts exposed the errors of Galen's theories which were based on animal dissections and eventually led to the most significant change in anatomical studies in general: blind faith on ancient authoritative books were replaced by learning anatomy from dissected human cadavers [47]. In that way Vesalius pioneered a paradigm shift from the concept prevalent till then that dissection being used as an extension of illustrations in anatomy to the acceptance of cadaveric dissection as the most significant tool from which students would learn anatomy. In those days, French anatomists like Jacques Dubois were completely influenced by the Galenic thoughts and Vesalius was very much disappointed at the fact that there was lack of any effort to rectify the mistakes of predecessors. The influence of Galen could be gauged by the fact that human cadavers were never seen in Dubois's anatomical theatre and he taught anatomy from the carcases of dogs and other animals [45]. Vesalius was also not satisfied with the traditional manner in which human dissections were carried out in those days, when the actual dissection was performed by the barber surgeons and the lecturer/anatomist orated from a text as they thought it was below their dignity to perform dissections on human cadavers by themselves. Hence he endeavoured to dissect human bodies by himself however opportunities were few and far between as he was still a student [44]. Nevertheless, his desire to gain knowledge through dissection of cadavers was so strong that he would raid the gallows of Paris for half decomposed bodies and skeletons to dissect. Sometimes he even found the courage to venture outside the walls of Paris, braving wild dogs and the stench of decomposed bodies, in order to steal cadavers from the mound of Monfaucon, where the bodies of executed criminals were hung until they disintegrated [4849]. Vesalius continued with his unethical practice to procure cadavers later on in Padua which have been mentioned before in this review. However his hunger for dissection during his stay in Paris may have contributed to his exceptional dissection skills which he displayed to the audience during only his second anatomical lecture in Padua, when he took the knife away from the barber-surgeon and began to dissect the cadaver himself (Fig. 3) [50]. His emphasis on the need for direct experience of dissection was instrumental in human cadaveric dissection achieving the central role in medical training and research in those days. During this period (early Renaissance) human dissection emerged as a popular domain for scholarly pursuits as physicians considered it an effective medium to communicate their discoveries of the natural world in objective form [51]. Hence, human dissection proved to be critical in dissemination of scientific knowledge in the field of medicine during this period of scientific revolution. Cadaveric dissection though was a messy business, requiring great physical strength and ability to withstand the smell of corpses as they decomposed. Due to natural decomposition, a cadaver was suitable for dissection in the first 3-4 days following death as after this the stench became too much for the dissector to bear. In warm or moist weather, the cadaver decomposed even faster, this is the reason that many medical schools preferred to dissect in winter months [49]. From 1537, after Pope Clement VII accepted human dissection for anatomical studies, popularity of dissection started to spread beyond the boundaries of the universities among the general population leading to public dissection sessions being attended by huge crowds and subsequent establishment of anatomical theatres (Fig. 4) [1743].


Human cadaveric dissection: a historical account from ancient Greece to the modern era.

Ghosh SK - Anat Cell Biol (2015)

Andreas Vesalius undertaking an anatomical lecture in Padua. A notable shift from the prevalent trend in medieval Italy as he is dissecting the human body himself. He is referring to Galen's text (prevalent textbook in anatomy in those days) which is open by the side of the cadaver. Vesalius is surrounded by his students in Padua and the general public viewing the dissection from the gallery. Image in public domain.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4582158&req=5

Figure 3: Andreas Vesalius undertaking an anatomical lecture in Padua. A notable shift from the prevalent trend in medieval Italy as he is dissecting the human body himself. He is referring to Galen's text (prevalent textbook in anatomy in those days) which is open by the side of the cadaver. Vesalius is surrounded by his students in Padua and the general public viewing the dissection from the gallery. Image in public domain.
Mentions: Human cadaveric dissection was practiced in Italy from 13th century (mostly autopsies though), however in France it was officially conducted from middle of 14th century [38]. The Papal Bull issued by Pope Boniface VIII in 1299 was possibly responsible for this delay [17]. Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320), the French anatomist executed the first unauthorized human dissection in the University of Montpellier in 1315. Prior to this event Mondeville had taught anatomy at Montpellier from a series of full length anatomical illustrations [39]. Guy de Chauliac (1300-1368), the French surgeon after receiving his Master's degree in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Paris in 1325, went to the University of Bologna to study anatomy. Here he attended dissection sessions of his teacher Nicolla Bertuccio (?-1347) and took the style of teaching from dissected cadavers prevalent in Bologna on his return to France. His knowledge regarding cadaveric dissection was critical to the advancement of anatomical practices in France [40]. In 1340, human cadaveric dissections were made official in the University of Montpellier and in 1407 the first sanctioned dissection took place in the University of Paris [41]. By the beginning of 15th century, cadaveric dissection became a regular event for teaching and learning anatomy in French universities [6]. In 14th century France, the study of anatomy was mostly limited to the use of criminal bodies [42], however due to increased demand for cadavers by the turn of 15th century, anatomical dissections on bodies meant for post-mortem autopsy became common in French universities [41]. It may be mentioned here that during the middle of 14th century, the Papacy had sanctioned post-mortem examinations of human bodies [43]. Although France in 16th century was open minded about the use of human cadavers for scientific inquiry, however during the early part of the 16th century, as human dissection was still not sanctioned by the church (Pope Clement VII accepted the teaching of anatomy by dissection in 1537) hence it was practised only in the universities and the number of cadavers available were very few [3843]. It was under these circumstances that Andreas Vesalius arrived at the University of Paris in 1533, after completing his studies in the University of Louvain [44]. He stayed in Paris till 1536 and studied anatomy under Jean Guiter d'Andernach (1487-1574) and Jacques Dubois (1478-1555) before moving to Padua [4546]. His assertion was that in order to learn anatomy, one has to dissect human cadavers by himself. His efforts exposed the errors of Galen's theories which were based on animal dissections and eventually led to the most significant change in anatomical studies in general: blind faith on ancient authoritative books were replaced by learning anatomy from dissected human cadavers [47]. In that way Vesalius pioneered a paradigm shift from the concept prevalent till then that dissection being used as an extension of illustrations in anatomy to the acceptance of cadaveric dissection as the most significant tool from which students would learn anatomy. In those days, French anatomists like Jacques Dubois were completely influenced by the Galenic thoughts and Vesalius was very much disappointed at the fact that there was lack of any effort to rectify the mistakes of predecessors. The influence of Galen could be gauged by the fact that human cadavers were never seen in Dubois's anatomical theatre and he taught anatomy from the carcases of dogs and other animals [45]. Vesalius was also not satisfied with the traditional manner in which human dissections were carried out in those days, when the actual dissection was performed by the barber surgeons and the lecturer/anatomist orated from a text as they thought it was below their dignity to perform dissections on human cadavers by themselves. Hence he endeavoured to dissect human bodies by himself however opportunities were few and far between as he was still a student [44]. Nevertheless, his desire to gain knowledge through dissection of cadavers was so strong that he would raid the gallows of Paris for half decomposed bodies and skeletons to dissect. Sometimes he even found the courage to venture outside the walls of Paris, braving wild dogs and the stench of decomposed bodies, in order to steal cadavers from the mound of Monfaucon, where the bodies of executed criminals were hung until they disintegrated [4849]. Vesalius continued with his unethical practice to procure cadavers later on in Padua which have been mentioned before in this review. However his hunger for dissection during his stay in Paris may have contributed to his exceptional dissection skills which he displayed to the audience during only his second anatomical lecture in Padua, when he took the knife away from the barber-surgeon and began to dissect the cadaver himself (Fig. 3) [50]. His emphasis on the need for direct experience of dissection was instrumental in human cadaveric dissection achieving the central role in medical training and research in those days. During this period (early Renaissance) human dissection emerged as a popular domain for scholarly pursuits as physicians considered it an effective medium to communicate their discoveries of the natural world in objective form [51]. Hence, human dissection proved to be critical in dissemination of scientific knowledge in the field of medicine during this period of scientific revolution. Cadaveric dissection though was a messy business, requiring great physical strength and ability to withstand the smell of corpses as they decomposed. Due to natural decomposition, a cadaver was suitable for dissection in the first 3-4 days following death as after this the stench became too much for the dissector to bear. In warm or moist weather, the cadaver decomposed even faster, this is the reason that many medical schools preferred to dissect in winter months [49]. From 1537, after Pope Clement VII accepted human dissection for anatomical studies, popularity of dissection started to spread beyond the boundaries of the universities among the general population leading to public dissection sessions being attended by huge crowds and subsequent establishment of anatomical theatres (Fig. 4) [1743].

Bottom Line: It particularly emphasizes on the different means of procuring human bodies which changed over the centuries in accordance with the increasing demand due to the rise in popularity of human dissection as a tool for teaching anatomy.Finally, it documents the rise of body donation programs as the source of human cadavers for anatomical dissection from the second half of the 20th century.Presently innovative measures are being introduced within the body donation programs by medical schools across the world to sensitize medical students such that they maintain a respectful, compassionate and empathetic attitude towards the human cadaver while dissecting the same.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Anatomy, ESI-PGIMSR & ESIC Medical College, Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

ABSTRACT
The review article attempts to focus on the practice of human cadaveric dissection during its inception in ancient Greece in 3rd century BC, revival in medieval Italy at the beginning of 14th century and subsequent evolution in Europe and the United States of America over the centuries. The article highlights on the gradual change in attitude of religious authorities towards human dissection, the shift in the practice of human dissection being performed by barber surgeons to the anatomist himself dissecting the human body and the enactment of prominent legislations which proved to be crucial milestones during the course of the history of human cadaveric dissection. It particularly emphasizes on the different means of procuring human bodies which changed over the centuries in accordance with the increasing demand due to the rise in popularity of human dissection as a tool for teaching anatomy. Finally, it documents the rise of body donation programs as the source of human cadavers for anatomical dissection from the second half of the 20th century. Presently innovative measures are being introduced within the body donation programs by medical schools across the world to sensitize medical students such that they maintain a respectful, compassionate and empathetic attitude towards the human cadaver while dissecting the same. Human dissection is indispensable for a sound knowledge in anatomy which can ensure safe as well as efficient clinical practice and the human dissection lab could possibly be the ideal place to cultivate humanistic qualities among future physicians in the 21st century.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus