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open access eISSN 2093-3673

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Review Article

Anat Cell Biol 2015; 48(3): 153-169

Published online September 1, 2015


Copyright © Korean Association of ANATOMISTS.

Human cadaveric dissection: a historical account from ancient Greece to the modern era

Sanjib Kumar Ghosh

Department of Anatomy, ESI-PGIMSR & ESIC Medical College, Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

Correspondence to: Sanjib Kumar Ghosh. Department of Anatomy, ESI-PGIMSR & ESIC Medical College, Joka, Kolkata 700104, West Bengal, India. Tel: +91-9007187207, Fax: +91-11-4157-1111, Email: drsanjib79@gmail.com

Received: May 4, 2015; Revised: July 24, 2015; Accepted: August 19, 2015

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The review article attempts to focus on the practice of human cadaveric dissection during its inception in ancient Greece in 3rd century BC, revival in medieval Italy at the beginning of 14th century and subsequent evolution in Europe and the United States of America over the centuries. The article highlights on the gradual change in attitude of religious authorities towards human dissection, the shift in the practice of human dissection being performed by barber surgeons to the anatomist himself dissecting the human body and the enactment of prominent legislations which proved to be crucial milestones during the course of the history of human cadaveric dissection. It particularly emphasizes on the different means of procuring human bodies which changed over the centuries in accordance with the increasing demand due to the rise in popularity of human dissection as a tool for teaching anatomy. Finally, it documents the rise of body donation programs as the source of human cadavers for anatomical dissection from the second half of the 20th century. Presently innovative measures are being introduced within the body donation programs by medical schools across the world to sensitize medical students such that they maintain a respectful, compassionate and empathetic attitude towards the human cadaver while dissecting the same. Human dissection is indispensable for a sound knowledge in anatomy which can ensure safe as well as efficient clinical practice and the human dissection lab could possibly be the ideal place to cultivate humanistic qualities among future physicians in the 21st century.

Keywords: Human dissection, De Liuzzi, Vesalius, Grave robbing, Anatomy Act, National socialist regime, Body donation, Uniform Anatomical Gift Act

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