HC Deb 20 June 1827 vol 17 cc1346-50
Mr. Warburton

presented a petition from the Royal College of Surgeons, complaining of the regulations of the College. After which, the hon. gentleman proceeded to make the motion of which he had given notice, respecting the Royal College. He observed, that all the evils which usually resulted from a close corporation of any kind had manifested themselves in the institution in question. The interests of the many were sacrificed for the benefit of the few. The enactments of the corporation of which the commonalty complained were as follow: In 1796, a former corporation, out of which the present grew, was, in consequence of some irregularity, dissolved. In 1797, an application was made to parliament for the purpose of establishing the corporation anew; and a bill was brought in for that purpose, granting the proposed corporation many powers, among which was the extraordinary one of monopolizing the Lecturing on Surgery in London; although at that very time many schools of surgery were in existence in the metropolis. After the bill had passed through the Commons, and through several stages in the Lords, great secrecy being observed with respect to its provisions, this strange clause was discovered, and the bill was immediately scouted. In 1800, the College of Surgeons obtained their present charter from the Crown. It was true, that that charter did not contain any such power as the one involved in the clause which he had just described; but the College endeavoured by means of bye-laws, to obtain a similar authority. The evil was, that the individuals of whom the Council of the College consisted were, more or less, connected with the hospitals, and with the lectures delivered in those hospitals; and therefore had a direct interest in framing the bye-laws in question. By those bye-laws it was declared, that the only regular Schools of Anatomy and Surgery were the hospitals of London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen; that no certificate of a pupil could be received unless he had studied in one of the above, containing a hundred patients, for a year; or in a Provincial Hospital, containing the same number of patients, two years. It was well known, that in the Provincial Hospi- tals it was exceedingly difficult to obtain subjects. London, Dublin, and Glasgow, were the only places in which they could be had with any facility. Formerly, it had been considered as the just reward of a surgeon who distinguished himself at the regular hospitals, that if he established himself as a lecturer in private, his class was likely to be numerously attended. It was not enough now, however, for a young man to produce a certificate of attendance on any of these gentlemen, or even of attendance at Foreign Hospitals; such as those of Paris, Vienna, &c. He had to complain, on behalf of the petitioners; that the examinations by the College were private, and it would be readily conceded that great advantages were, in almost all cases, attendant upon publicity. The petitioners were no advocates for rendering admission into the profession more easy than it at present was; their object being only to make examinations more fair, and the persons admitted more highly qualified for the duties they would be called upon to perform. The examiners were at present appointed for life; and it happened that the science often got the start of them, and they were behind the knowledge which their younger contemporaries possessed. The examinations were often of a very superficial description; and the Admiralty and Military Boards were so dissatisfied with the examinations of the College, that they were obliged to subject persons to a further scrutiny, to ascertain whether they were fit for the public service. It was considered by the College, that all persons who practised the obstetric branch of the profession, as well as all apothecaries, were less qualified than others for the honours and advantages of that institution.—Another complaint was, that the College had passed a bye-law, which required every student, before examination, to produce a certificate that he had attended a course of winter lectures. This extraordinary bye-law was not confined merely to dissection, but it extended to surgery and anatomy. This was the means of depriving of pupils, and consequently of suppressing the lectures, which many able men had been accustomed to give in the summer. It was justly complained that the College had made an invidious distinction as to the entrance granted to members and to students into the Theatre. The Museum was opened only twice a week, and then only two hours on each day. This Museum was purchased in 1799, and was removed to its present situation in 1806; and yet no catalogue of its contents was published, and the collection was consequently rendered nearly useless. At the time of making the purchase, the collection contained many manuscripts of the late John Hunter; and these, from a certain degree of neglect in the Council, had been suffered to be destroyed. At an early period of the next session, if the petitioners continued in the same mind as at present, he should certainly move for a committee to inquire into the subject. In the mean time, he should move for certain papers, which would afford the necessary information for the guidance of the House. The hon. member concluded by moving for a return from the College of Surgeons of all public money lent or granted to the College from 1799 to the present time, for the purchase of the Hunterian Museum, and for building, purchasing, repairing, and improving the said College, with the appropriation and expenditure thereof: the regulations under which the members and students are admitted to the Hunterian Museum, and to the Library of the College: the numbers of persons examined for practice in surgery: and an account of all monies received by the College in 1825, and 1826, on account of the members.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that the subject was by no means new to the House, as similar petitions had been presented upon former occasions. It would be found, that the petitioners were not aggrieved as to the points of complaint, and that the College would have no difficulty in making its case good. It was unfair, in the interim between the present time and the ensuing session, that the College should lie under these heavy charges, especially as many of them arose out of personal pique. It was true, that there was no catalogue of the Hunterian Museum, and that many of the manuscripts of the late Mr. Hunter had been improperly destroyed. Mr. Cliff, however, was sedulously preparing a catalogue.

Mr. Peel

said, he was bound to declare, in justice to the heads of the College, that he had found them willing to remove every evil of which the petition complained. With respect to the refusal to admit the members to enter through the private door, he had advised that the cause of complaint upon that point should be removed, and which was accordingly done. He had also given it as his opinion, that there ought to be a public account rendered of all fines and monies received for admissions. A very able person was employed in drawing up the catalogue, which would be soon published, and in the meanwhile his time could not be abstracted too little, by the admission of strangers into the Museum. He believed that foreigners and strangers were admitted at all times; and when the catalogue was finished, the days of admission would be four out of the six in each week. The examinations of students were not in private. The students considered the examination to be very severe; and many of them were rejected. The destruction of the manuscripts had never been sanctioned by the Council of Surgeons. An individual had conceived himself justified in destroying these papers, conceiving it necessary for the fame of Mr. Hunter that they should be made away with. The Council had no power to prevent the destruction; and therefore were not responsible for what had been done. They had made application, in order to recover the remainder. Many surgeons of the first eminence, such as Mr. Brodie, Mr. Travers, Mr. Earl, Dr. Babington, Mr. Stanley, and Mr. Davis, approved of the conduct of the college of surgeons. He allowed that the petition was signed by many persons of the highest professional character, though he had declined presenting it; as there were many parts in which he did not agree. With respect to anatomy, that science could not be pursued without a due facility of obtaining subjects, or dead bodies. Wax, leathern, or wooden, figures, were found to be inadequate to the object. The difficulty of obtaining bodies was increased by the prejudices of the lower orders, whose feelings were outraged at the idea of submitting dead bodies to dissection. The subject was well deserving consideration; for, as the law now stood, it was of serious injury to a science most important to human life. Young men designed for the profession, instead of pursuing their studies in London, Edinburgh, or Ireland, uniformly proceeded to Paris. The law which enacted, that the body of the murderer should be given up for dissection, tended to create a prejudice in the minds of the lower orders against any human body whatever being used for that purpose. He would not wish to alter the law in this re- spect; but, it might be proper to bring in a bill which should provide, that all persons dying under any execution for felony, should have their bodies given up for dissection. There were between four and five thousand persons under commitments for felonies; and he thought that all who died in gaols, or on board the hulks, under such circumstances, might be given up to be anatomized. If this were considered an addition of punishment, he should be glad of it, as it would tend to prevent offences; if it was considered otherwise, there would be no hardship in it. The price of a subject in Paris was only about twenty francs or fourteen shillings; whilst in London it had been as high as sixteen or eighteen guineas.

Sir Joseph Yorke

said, that the supply of healthy dead bodies, such as of persons executed, was not the only object; it being material for surgeons to obtain the bodies of those who had died of peculiar diseases. He did not see why there might not be introduced into the bill which the right hon. gentleman spoke of, a clause to render it legal for any person who died in poverty previously to dispose of his body. He thought it an evil, that whilst Scotland possessed three schools of medicine and surgery, England and Ireland should possess but one each.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

thought there would be a great evil in giving over the bodies of criminals for dissection, inasmuch as it would go towards increasing the prejudice which existed so inconveniently already. If it were possible, he thought they ought to repeal Mr. Jodrell's Resurrection act. As things stood, the magistracy ought to endeavour to let things pass as silently as they could, instead of exerting any uncalled-for activity.

The motion was agreed to.