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Student JAMA
January 7, 2004

Unclaimed Bodies at the Anatomy Table

JAMA. 2004;291(1):122-123. doi:10.1001/jama.291.1.122

Although no studies have conclusively demonstrated that anatomical dissection is necessary to future clinical abilities, use of cadavers to teach anatomy has long been deemed essential to medical education. In an 1824 Lancet aal described by Shultz,1 Thomas Wakely wrote, "If dead bodies can not be procured, it will be impossible for the pupils to learn anatomy, and without anatomy, neither surgeons nor physicians can practice with the least prospect of benefiting their patients." Procuring cadavers from willing donors has never been easy, however; accounts of early medical instruction dwell on the prisons, grave robberies, and pauper murders that often supplied early American anatomy labs. Two hundred years later, with regulations forbidding the sale of human bodies and programs encouraging people to donate their bodies to medical science, anatomy departments receive little criticism. However, unclaimed bodies are still the source of cadavers in anatomy laboratories at about 20% of US and Canadian medical schools.2

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