HC Deb 18 April 1832 vol 12 cc664-9

On the Motion of Mr. Warburton, the House resolved itself into a Committee on this Bill. On the clause being read which authorizes parties having the lawful custody of bodies to dispose of them for the purpose of dissection, unless the deceased shall have expressed a desire to the contrary, either in writing or verbally before two witnesses,

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that he objected both to the gift and to the sale of bodies for dissection. He should, therefore, propose that there be added to this clause a proviso, prohibiting all governors of hospitals or infirmaries, and all governors of gaols, having the legal custody of persons deceased from allowing such bodies to be dissected. He had no wish to exclude from anatomical examination such bodies as died of diseases of rare occurrence, but his object was, to prevent an abuse, which under the colour of a plea of that kind, might be made to extend to other cases.

Mr. Warburton

said, he must oppose the Amendment, for to make any regulations to prevent the dissection of persons who died in hospitals would do the greatest mischief to the practice of surgery, for hospitals were the great schools of surgery; and the Amendment would go to deprive students and surgeons of some of the best opportunities of learning their profession which they now enjoyed. With respect to the other point in the Amendment, it was admitted, that the principle of the law ought to apply to the rich and poor alike; he did not see upon what ground the latter must be excluded from the operation of this Bill, as far as those who died in workhouses were concerned.

Mr. Robinson

had objected to this clause on a former occasion; and as this was the last opportunity he should have, he would now restate his objections to it. Both the hon. member for Bridport and the right hon. member for Tamworth, on a former occasion assumed, in their arguments, that if this clause was negatived, there were no other means left to the student for pursuing the study of anatomical science. He denied that proposition; and also, that those who had felt it their duty to oppose this Bill in some of its clauses, were actuated by a desire to throw any impediment in the way of that science. For his own part, he felt a most sincere anxiety to promote a science necessary to the welfare of the human species; but he differed from the hon. Member as to the mode of attaining that object. The terms in which this clause was drawn up seemed chosen with a view to conceal the disgusting process it was to facilitate. "Subject bodies to anatomical examination" meant nothing more or less than holding out an inducement to the most poor and miserable class of the community to dispose, by public sale, of the dead bodies of their nearest relatives. A husband, for instance, might sell the body of his wife, the mother of his children; and there would be found persons to urge him to such an unnatural action for the sake of profit—for this Bill would create a set of people who would act as brokers for the procuring of subjects, and ready to take all advantages. His belief was, that, if the Legislature had repealed the Act which now consigned the bodies of malefactors to the dissecting room, and had afforded additional facilities in hospitals and other places for anatomical study, the purposes of the present Act would have been accomplished. At any rate he would never be a party to such an enactment. The protection the clause pretended to give to those who wished not to have their bodies dissected after death was perfectly nugatory. How was it to be proved that they expressed this negative wish? Persons moving in the class of life of the hon. member for Bridport, would take care to leave some testimony of their wishes in this respect by will or otherwise; but the poor and ignorant, even if they knew of the provision, would not have the same facilities for expressing such a wish. Instead of requiring a negative to prevent dissection, an affirmative should be required to permit it He announced an amendment, the other night to that effect; but was outvoted, and he supposed the same would occur again; he would, therefore, content himself with protesting against the whole measure. Seeing it was perfectly useless, he would not give himself the trouble of further opposing it.

Mr. Wason

said, the simple question before the House was, whether they would allow human bodies to be regularly bought and sold: on such an occasion the feelings of the people ought to be consulted, and, with that view, he had gone through all the petitions that had been presented to the House on this subject; and he found that there were only two in favour of the Bill, and either seventeen or eighteen against some of the main features of it. It was, therefore, a mistake to say, that the Bill was popular in the country. Even the London College of Medicine had prayed the House to prevent the purchase and sale of bodies, on account of the feelings of the people being opposed to such a provision. He believed the unclaimed bodies in work houses and hospitals would be found sufficient for the purpose of anatomical science. Last year he understood these amounted to upwards of 260, and these might be had without outraging any person's feelings; but then, it was said, to take these for such purposes would hold out one law for the poor and another for the rich, by subjecting the bodies of the former only to dissection. By making it legal for any person to sell their bodies, it was said all were placed on an equality, as if the rich man would sell his body or that of his relatives. The operation of the clause, it was clear, would be confined to the bodies of the poor.

Mr. Hunt

said, that if the Amendment of the hon. member for Oxford was carried, he should move, what he had always threatened to move—that the bodies of all placemen and pensioners should be given up for dissection.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, the circumstances of the relatives being relieved from the expenses of the burying their friends might operate as an inducement to some persons to give up the bodies for the purposes of anatomical science, as the schools of medicine, who obtained them, were bound to bury them, but he objected to making a general provision to legalize the sale. In one year, upwards of 5,000 bodies were buried at the expense of the parishes; part of these might have been for the purpose of dissection.

Mr. Briscoe

had every desire to respect the welfare and advantage of the public; but he did not see that any benefit to the country would arise from such a very in- definite clause as this, under which the bodies of the whole population of the United Kingdom, as well as of foreigners in England, might be handed over to the surgeons for dissection.

Mr. Hunt

observed, that he had presented a Petition from several persons in Lancaster gaol, stating that their allowances had been taken away, that they were unwell, and feared they might die in gaol, when, if this Bill passed, their bodies might be given up for dissection, to which they had great objections. But then, it was said, they might leave directions prohibiting it; but who had the custody of such objections but the gaoler? and who was to have the sale of the bodies but the same person? The clause was, therefore, a mockery, and he would divide the House upon it, even if the Amendment was negatived.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 4; Noes 48—Majority 44.

On the question that the Clause stand part of the Bill, the Committee again divided: Ayes 46; Noes 6—Majority 40.

On the Clause which provides that the body of the deceased shall be kept twenty-four hours previous to its being handed over for dissection,

Mr. Briscoe

said, it would be utterly impossible, in many cases, to communicate with the relatives of the deceased in so short a period as twenty-four hours. He moved that forty-eight hours be substituted.

Mr. Hume

said, it was quite obvious that, in many cases, it was necessary bodies should be dissected as soon as possible after death, but he would not resist the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Hunt

proposed that these words be inserted in the Clause:—"Nor until after the inspector of the district shall have been sent for, and shall have inspected the body of the deceased, and shall have been satisfied of the cause of his or her death, by the signature of his or her surgeon or physician, provided always that such physician or surgeon be in no case whatever interested in the school of anatomy to which the body is to be consigned." His object was, to protect the public, and prevent a repetition of the horrible scenes which had recently occurred.

Mr. Warburton

thought the provision unnecessary, because, the certificate of a well-known respectable man would be quite sufficient, but he was ready to admit that, in some cases, where the medical man was not known, his certificate would not be sufficient. His great objection to this proposition was, that it interfered with matters which had much better be left to the discretion of the Home Secretary.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 1; Noes 49—Majority 48.

Mr. Briscoe

said, he had some doubts whether a body ought, under any circumstances, to be allowed to be removed until it had been first examined by the Inspector.

Mr. Warburton

remarked, that he could only repeat what he had before said, that such matters of detail ought to be left to the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, he thought there was no occasion for the provision mentioned by the hon. Member: a certificate from a respectable medical man would be sufficient, in his opinion, to authorize the removal of a body.

Mr. Hunt

said, many persons might die without having the attendance of a medical man, and how was such an one to certify to the illness be did not see?

An Hon. Member

observed, that surgeons were frequently examined on Coroners inquests as to the cause of the death of a person whom they had never before seen.

Mr. Hunt

No doubt they were; but it was generally the case of some external death produced by violent means; and they were also examined in open Court upon Oath.

Sir Robert Inglis

moved this Amendment: "That a penalty of 100l. should be inflicted on any person proffering a gratuity of any description whatever for a dead body, or receiving such a gratuity."

The division was as follows: Ayes 11; Noes 49; Majority 38.

Mr. Hunt

moved the insertion of a clause to require persons taking out licences for dissecting to pay a certain annual sum.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, it was not competent for a Committee to entertain such a provision, because its object was, to impose a tax, and no proposition of that sort could be considered in Committee.

The Committee divided on the Amendment; Ayes 11; Noes 49—Majority 38.

The House subsequently divided on Clause D: Ayes 45; Noes 5—Majority 40.

Clause agreed to.

Mr. Hunt

proposed an Amendment, the object of which was, to leave to the Judges the power of ordering murderers to be given up for dissection; the Bill proposing to repeal that part of the law.

On this Amendment the Committee divided: Ayes 1; Noes 49—Majority 48.

Clauses agreed to.

Adjourned till May 7th.

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