CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
TitleAnatomy Act Committee records
Datec 1833 - 1973
Extent5 volumes, 1 folder
Administrative HistoryThe Anatomy Act of 1832 introduced procedures to regulate the supply and use of corpses in medical training. Local Anatomy Act Committees were established in University towns under the act, to administer its objectives and redress the unenviable reputation acquired by anatomical research and training during the earlier nineteenth century.

The act permitted 'unclaimed' bodies to be admitted to medical schools for dissection and made provision for individuals to bequeath their bodies for medical research. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries most bodies were received into medical schools via the 'unclaimed' route, however it is clear from the Committee's minutes that meeting an ever-growing demand for corpses was a persistent problem from the very beginning. By the 1920s the number of bodies available had fallen away dramatically and the Committee was forced to meet its quota in other ways. Assisted by a number of high profile cases in which public figures had left their bodies for medical science, it turned its attention tentatively towards promotion of this provision within the act. A public awareness campaign seems to have been mounted in the 1950s and 60s and today, this is the principal source of bodies for teaching purposes.

The sharp decline in 'unclaimed' bodies from the early twentieth century was a reflection of improved living standards and the effects of legislative changes such as the National Insurance Act 1911, Unemployment Insurance Act 1924 and Health Insurance Act 1946, upon the health and welfare of the British population. However, the early dependence of the Committee upon unclaimed bodies from poorer members of society persisted well into the mid-twentieth century, when promotion of its work persistently stressed the benefits that they, specifically, had to gain from medical research.

The Committee was to be self-financing and achieved this by charging medical schools for the bodies that they used. In Aberdeen, the 'Funeratory' or 'Parochial Burying House' in Henderson's Court received 'unclaimed' bodies from the hospitals or poorhouses from which most originated, prior to their transfer to the medical school. Strict regulations governed the means by which the bodies were offered to the school, their transfer and final disposal. All expenses of removal and burial (or cremation) were borne by the medical schools (unless relatives wished the body to be interred in private ground, when they were obliged to meet that expense themselves), and a service conducted by a minister of the faith professed by the deceased. A salary was paid to the superintendent of the Funeratory and after meeting this and other general expenses, the Committee appears to have carried forward a small surplus each year, enabling it to complete building of a new Funeratory in Longacre in May 1885.

The local Anatomy Act Committees reported to Her Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy, or in Scotland, to the Inspector of Anatomy for Scotland. Aberdeen Anatomy Act Committee, or Funeratory Committee, comprised sixteen members, including the Lord Provost, University principal, representatives of the church, and heads of civic and medical departments. C &PH Chalmers, solicitors, acted as secretary. In December 1929 a motion was passed appointing Dr May Baird, Convener of the Public Health Committee, to the Committee. It was hoped that this might strengthen the Committee's relationships with local Public Assistance Officers and Medical Officers of Health, and lead to greater support for the Committee's work from hospitals and poorhouses outside the City.
DescriptionMinutes, 1856 - 1973, including notes on history of the ' Parochial Burying House, or Funeratory', c 1844 - 1847; cash books, c 1833 - 1888; register of bodies brought to the Parochial Burying House, 1843 - 1945; printed material relating to the work of the Anatomy Act Committee, 20th century
Access StatusRestricted
Access ConditionsAccess to this collection is at the discretion of the University's registered teacher of anatomy . Researchers should contact the Reading Room for further guidance.
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