Anatomy Act 1832

Anatomy Act 1832

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The Anatomy Act 1832 was a United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 Act of Parliament
Act of Parliament
An Act of Parliament is a statute enacted as primary legislation by a national or sub-national parliament. In the Republic of Ireland the term Act of the Oireachtas is used, and in the United States the term Act of Congress is used.In Commonwealth countries, the term is used both in a narrow...

 that gave freer license to doctors
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

, teachers of anatomy
Human anatomy
Human anatomy is primarily the scientific study of the morphology of the human body. Anatomy is subdivided into gross anatomy and microscopic anatomy. Gross anatomy is the study of anatomical structures that can be seen by the naked eye...

, and bona fide medical student
Medical Student
Medical Student may refer to:*Someone studying at medical school*Medical Student Newspaper, a UK publication...

s to dissect
Dissection is usually the process of disassembling and observing something to determine its internal structure and as an aid to discerning the functions and relationships of its components....

 donated bodies
Body donation
Body donation is the donation of the whole body after death for medical research and education. For years, only medical schools accepted whole bodies for donation, but now private programs also accept donors....

. It was promulgated in reaction to public fear and revulsion of the illegal trade in corpses.


Before 1832, the Murder Act 1752 stipulated that only the corpses of executed
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 murderers could be used for dissection. By the early nineteenth century, the rise of medical science, occurring at the same time as a reduction in the number of executions, had caused demand to outstrip supply.

As early as about 1810 an anatomical society was formed, to impress on the government the necessity for an alteration in the law. Among the members were John Abernethy
John Abernethy (surgeon)
John Abernethy FRS was an English surgeon, grandson of the Reverend John Abernethy.He was born in Coleman Street in the City of London, where his father was a merchant. Educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School, he was apprenticed in 1779 to Sir Charles Blicke , a surgeon at St Bartholomew's...

, Charles Bell
Charles Bell
Sir Charles Bell was a Scottish surgeon, anatomist, neurologist and philosophical theologian.His three older brothers included John Bell , also a noted surgeon and writer; and the advocate George Joseph Bell .-Life:...

, Everard Home
Everard Home
Sir Everard Home, 1st Baronet FRS was a British physician.Home was born in Kingston-upon-Hull and educated at Westminster School. He gained a schoalrship to Trinity College, Cambridge, but decided instead to become a pupil of his brother-in-law, John Hunter, at St. George's Hospital...

, Benjamin Brodie, Astley Cooper
Astley Cooper
Sir Astley Paston Cooper, 1st Baronet was an English surgeon and anatomist, who made historical contributions to otology, vascular surgery, the anatomy and pathology of the mammary glands and testicles, and the pathology and surgery of hernia.-Life:Cooper was born at Brooke Hall in Brooke, Norfolk...

 and Henry Cline
Henry Cline
-Life:Cline was born in London, and was educated at Merchant Taylors' School. At the age of seventeen he was apprenticed to Mr. Thomas Smith, one of the surgeons to St. Thomas's Hospital, and before the close of his apprenticeship he frequently lectured for Else, then lecturer on anatomy. On 2 June...

. The efforts of this body gave rise to an 1828 select committee to report on the question. Details of the evidence are recorded in the minutes of this body.

The report of this committee led to the Bill but public revulsion and fear at the recent West Port murders
West Port murders
The Burke and Hare murders were serial murders perpetrated in Edinburgh, Scotland, from November 1827 to October 31, 1828. The killings were attributed to Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare, who sold the corpses of their 17 victims to provide material for dissection...

 sensitised opinion in favour of a change in the law. In 1831, public outcry at the activities of the London Burkers
London Burkers
The London Burkers were a group of body snatchers, operating in London, who apparently modelled their activities on those of the notorious Burke and Hare...

 caused further pressure for a Bill.

Passage of the Bill

Public sentiment notwithstanding, there was substantial opposition to the Bill.
In 1829 the College of Surgeons
Royal College of Surgeons of England
The Royal College of Surgeons of England is an independent professional body and registered charity committed to promoting and advancing the highest standards of surgical care for patients, regulating surgery, including dentistry, in England and Wales...

 petitioned against it, and it was withdrawn in the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 owing to the opposition of the Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

 William Howley
William Howley
William Howley was a clergyman in the Church of England. He served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1828 to 1848.-Early Life, education, and interests:...


In 1832 a new Anatomy Bill was introduced, which, though strongly opposed by Hunt, Sadler and Vyvyan, was supported by Macaulay and O'Connell
Daniel O'Connell
Daniel O'Connell Daniel O'Connell Daniel O'Connell (6 August 1775 – 15 May 1847; often referred to as The Liberator, or The Emancipator, was an Irish political leader in the first half of the 19th century...

, and finally passed the House of Lords on the July 19, 1832.

Provisions of the Act

The Act provided that anyone intending to practise anatomy
Anatomy is a branch of biology and medicine that is the consideration of the structure of living things. It is a general term that includes human anatomy, animal anatomy , and plant anatomy...

 must obtain a licence from the Home Secretary
Home Secretary
The Secretary of State for the Home Department, commonly known as the Home Secretary, is the minister in charge of the Home Office of the United Kingdom, and one of the country's four Great Offices of State...

. As a matter of fact only one or two teachers in each institution took out this licence and were known as licensed teachers. They accepted the whole responsibility for the proper treatment of all bodies dissected in the building for which their licence was granted.

Regulating these licensed teachers, and receiving constant reports from them, were four inspectors of anatomy, one each for England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 and London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, who reported to the Home Secretary and knew the whereabouts of every body being dissected. The principal provision of the act was Section 7 which stipulated that a person having lawful possession of a body may permit it to undergo anatomical examination provided no relative objected. The other sections were subsidiary and detailed the methods of carrying this into effect.

Section 16 repealed parts of sections 4 and 5 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828
Offences Against the Person Act 1828
The Offences against the Person Act 1828 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It consolidated provisions related to offences against the person from a number of earlier statutes into a single Act...

 (which in turn replaced an Act of Henry VIII ) which provided that the bodies of murderers were to be hung in chains or dissected after execution. It provided instead that they were to be either hung in chains or buried within the precincts of the last prison in which the deceased had been confined. The provision for hanging in chains was shortly repealed by the Hanging in Chains Act 1834 and the whole section was repealed and replaced by section 3 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861
Offences Against The Person Act 1861
The Offences against the Person Act 1861 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It consolidated provisions related to offences against the person from a number of earlier statutes into a single Act...


The Act, provided for the needs of physicians, surgeons and students by giving them legal access to corpses that were unclaimed after death, in particular those who died in prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

 or the workhouse
In England and Wales a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment...

. Further, a person could donate their next of kin
Next of kin
Next of kin is a term with many interpretations depending on the jurisdiction being referred to. In some jurisdictions, such as the United States, it is used to describe a person's closest living blood relative or relatives...

's corpse in exchange for burial
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.-History:...

 at the expense of the donee.

Occasionally a person, following the example of Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism...

, left their body for the advancement of science, but even then, if his relatives objected, it was not received.

The act was effective in ending the practice of Resurrectionists who robbed graves as a means of obtaining cadaver
A cadaver is a dead human body.Cadaver may also refer to:* Cadaver tomb, tomb featuring an effigy in the form of a decomposing body* Cadaver , a video game* cadaver A command-line WebDAV client for Unix....

s for medical study.

Gunther von Hagens
Gunther von Hagens
Gunther von Hagens is a controversial German anatomist who invented the technique for preserving biological tissue specimens called plastination.-Early life:...

 was accused of (but not charged
An indictment , in the common-law legal system, is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that maintain the concept of felonies, the serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that lack the concept of felonies often use that of an indictable offence—an...

 with) breaking the Act because of performing televised autopsy
An autopsy—also known as a post-mortem examination, necropsy , autopsia cadaverum, or obduction—is a highly specialized surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the cause and manner of death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present...

 in 2002.

Fear of the Act's provision that paupers' bodies could be sold for medical research without their consent, protest riots took place as late as a decade after its implementation. An anatomical theatre in Cambridge
The city of Cambridge is a university town and the administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It lies in East Anglia about north of London. Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the...

 was vandalised late in 1833 "by an angry mob determined to put a stop to the dissection of a man; this wave of popular protest alarmed the medical profession who resolved to hide its activities from the general public, andto a greater or lesser extent it has been doing so ever since."


The Act was repealed by the Anatomy Act 1984 which was, in turn, repealed by Human Tissue Act 2004
Human Tissue Act 2004
The Human Tissue Act 2004 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which consolidated previous legislation and created the Human Tissue Authority to "regulate the removal, storage, use and disposal of human bodies, organs and tissue."...

. Access to corpses for the use of medical science in the UK is now regulated by the Human Tissue Authority
Human Tissue Authority
The Human Tissue Authority is a non-departmental public body in the United Kingdom that regulates the removal, storage, use and disposal of human bodies, organs and tissue for a number of scheduled purposes such as research, transplantation, and education and training.It was created by the Human...

. However in Scotland this is still governed by amendments (under the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006
Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006
The Human Tissue Act 2006 is an Act of the Scottish Parliament to consolidate and overhaul previous legislation regarding the handling of human tissue.Its counterpart in the rest of the United Kingdom is the Human Tissue Act 2004....

) to the existing Anatomy Act, and Scotland will retain an Inspector of Anatomy. It is thought that the provisions of the original 1832 Anatomy Act are the basis of modern thinking on the subject.

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