HC Deb 21 April 1828 vol 18 cc1612-4
Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had been requested to present some petitions which were of considerable importance. They related to the state of Anatomical Science in this country. The first was from the president and council of the Royal College of Surgeons. The petition was signed by sir W. Blizard, Mr. Abernethy, sir A. Cooper, and many other gentlemen of eminence in the profession. They stated, that they had pursued every means which the law allowed to procure anatomical subjects; that many were obliged to resort to France to learn a science so necessary to medicine; that the structure of the human body could not be learned by models; that the law required a man to possess a certain portion of information in his profession, and that they were liable to legal prosecution for professional ignorance. He really thought that every one must see the necessity of preserving to the country this branch of science; but he was afraid of a public discussion on the subject, when he recollected the prejudices which were found to prevail, more particularly among the lower orders. An hon. member would to-morrow bring forward a motion for an inquiry into the subject, and he should, therefore, reserve any decisive opinion until he heard the grounds on which that hon. member meant to rest his motion.

Sir J. Yorke

observed upon the number of suicides annually committed in London, and suggested that, in such cases, it would be proper to give up the bodies for dissection.

Mr. Hume

said, that the effect of making dissection at any time a penalty could only be to increase the aversion in which if was held by the community.

Mr. Peel

acquiesced in the opinion of the hon. member for Aberdeen.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, that the expense of a course of anatomical study in Edinburgh was already twenty times greater than it was in Paris. It was so heavy, indeed, that not one pupil in four could afford fairly to go through it; and the result was, that great numbers were turned out, with very inadequate qualifications, to practise upon the community. He would not, at that moment, state his precise views upon the subject, but he believed it would be possible to provide all the supply that was necessary, without any offence to the feelings of humanity, or violation of the rites of sepulture. The poorer classes were vitally interested in some proper arrangement of the question, since it was to their lot that the danger from all unqualified or half-qualified medical practitioners must necessarily fall: there would always, whatever might, be the charge of education, be a sufficient quantity of skill and knowledge for the rich. With respect to the proposition as to suicides, he might just observe, that, in opposition to the common belief, it was capable of proof, that suicides were less frequent in England than in any country in Europe; and the giving up the bodies of murderers proved a source of supply entirely unworthy notice. For the last seven years the number of murderers had only averaged fourteen in each year, or one upon every eight hundred and fifty thousand on the population. It gave him pleasure also to observe how much the number of executions generally had decreased of later years. In 1733, the executions in London and Middlesex had been as one to ten thousand upon the population; in the last seven years they had only averaged one in seventy thousand. As for the question of the expediency of continuing the practice of dissection in cases of murder, it did not appear to him that any threat could add practically to the terror of the punishment of death. The true distinction to take between the crime of murder and less heinous offences would be to lighten the character of the punishments inflicted for the latter. Ordered to lie on the table.