Human dissection has not always had a good image. In fact it is fair to say it has a had bad press. Perhaps with good reason.

Most people when hearing of human dissection react with feeling of revulsion initially. When it is explained how important the value of dissection is they start to understand but still would not wish for their mind to linger on the subject any longer.

Maybe this is partially because of not only a fear of death or perhaps a lack of appreciation of how this is knowledge can improve of the human form, but also from historic horrors going back throughout history. Most will have heard of Burke and Hare, even without knowing why in any great detail. Burke and Hare committed a series of 16 murders over a period of about ten months in 1828 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The killings were undertaken by William Burke and William Hare, who sold the corpses to Doctor Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures. At the time of these murders which was prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts. Those who were sentenced to dissection by the courts were often guilty of comparatively harsher crimes. Such sentences did not provide enough subjects for the medical schools and private anatomical schools (which did not require a licence before 1832). During the 18th century hundreds had been executed for trivial crimes, but by the 19th century only about 55 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year. With the expansion of the medical schools, however, as many as 500 cadavers were needed annually leaving a significant shortfall to be filled by the likes of Burke and Hare.

Medical schools still need cadavers to this day, but obviously the use of body snatchers to supply them has long since ceased. So how do medical schools get cadavers in the 21st century?

The way most schools obtain cadavers is through donation. This sounds such a morbid issue to consider, but it does provide the gift of learning to another generation. It is not for everyone that is sure, but it is regulated in the UK by the Human Tissue Authority.

A very interesting article from Chris Briggs, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Melbourne in 2011 talks about the donor program at Melbourne University. It is a fascinating insight into the process and how it helps todays students, who are tomorrows researchers and doctors.

It is certainly something to consider, you could be helping future generations with research, and one day a student who changes the course of medicine may have learnt his or her skills thanks to you.