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JAMA 100 Years Ago
November 2, 2005


JAMA. 2005;294(17):2246. doi:10.1001/jama.294.17.2246-b

An anomalous condition—at least anomalous at this age—exists in the state of Texas. Practitioners of medicine are required to have a knowledge of the human body and medical colleges are chartered to teach the science and art of medicine in that state, and yet there is no legal provision whereby the student or the physician can secure the dissecting material. To desecrate a grave in Texas is a crime punishable by six months’ imprisonment, or a fine of $500 or less. To disinter or to carry away any human body or the remains thereof, or to conceal it knowing it to be illegally disinterred, is a crime punishable by a fine not exceeding $2,000. It is legal to dissect bodies before burial, but it is impossible to secure them legally. In 1900 a measure to legalize means of providing dissection material passed the legislature, but the governor vetoed it. In 1904 a bill was prepared containing provisions which, it was thought, would prevent any of the abuses which had been feared by the public, and yet it was impossible to secure a vote in the senate on the question. The profession of Texas certainly deserves better treatment than this. It has been suggested that in suits for malpractice it would be a legal defense in the state of Texas to show that the laws of the state, if adhered to, prevent the student or the practitioner from securing a working knowledge of the human body, and that, therefore, a suit for malpractice could not stand. The situation demands a prompt remedy, and we trust that our Texas brethren will leave no stone unturned until they are allowed to use unclaimed bodies, instead of the present necessity of resorting to illegal means.