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Book and Media Reviews
April 18, 2007

Human Remains: Dissection and Its Histories

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: John L. Zeller, MD, PhD, Fishbein Fellow.

JAMA. 2007;297(15):1717-1722. doi:10.1001/jama.297.15.1720

As the title of this book makes clear, a single definitive history of dissection is simply not possible. It is a subject that will always be controversial, and so stories about its past will always be contested. MacDonald begins with a description of Gunther von Hagens' public dissection of a human corpse in November 2002. Von Hagens claimed that he was making anatomy democratic again, comparing his work with the public dissections performed in Britain before 1832. However, MacDonald points out, executed murderers were the subject of these public events, and dissection was part of their final punishment. As MacDonald makes clear, “anatomy has a disreputable past” (p 3).

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