HC Deb 15 February 1832 vol 10 cc377-9
Mr. Hunt

presented a Petition from certain inhabitants of Blackburn, in Lancashire, praying that the House would not pass what the petitioners called the Dead Body Bill, but what the House called the Anatomy Bill. The petitioners complained of the power given to the governors of workhouses to sell the bodies of the persons who died in those houses; thus making a distinction between the rich and the poor; they prayed that graves might be protected from violation, that means should be adopted to guard against murder for the purposes of dissection, and that professional men should be compelled to account for bodies in their possession. The hon. Member said, that he perfectly agreed in the abhorrence which the petitioners entertained of the proposition for legalizing the sale of dead bodies.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that he had a copy of the petition sent him, with a request that he would support it; but the fact was, that the petition was founded upon a mistake. There was no clause in the Bill empowering the governors of workhouses to sell the bodies of the persons who died in those houses; there was no distinction made by the Bill between the rich and the poor. Indeed he thought the effect of it would be for the advantage of the latter. They were more interested than any other class of persons, that surgeons in general should have the power of obtaining a scientific education cheaply, and they could not obtain the necessary knowledge without every facility being afforded them of examining the structure of the human body.

Mr. Hume

said, that the petition had been sent to him to present, upon which he had written to the petitioners to inform them that they were altogether mistaken upon the subject. They prayed the House to take measures to prevent the disgraceful practice of plundering graves. Why, that was done by the Bill. They prayed the House to take measures to prevent murder with a view of selling the corpse for dissection. Why that was done by the Bill. They prayed the House to take measures to make the professors of Anatomy or Surgery answerable with respect to the bodies which might be found in their possession. That was done by the Bill. The three objects which the petitioners especially prayed for were also the objects of the Bill. He was quite sure that the Bill was calculated to effect as much good as it was possible to effect on the subject; and he called on the hon. member for Preston, if he supported the prayer of the petition, to support the Bill also, which embodied the prayers of the petitioners.

Mr. Hunt

allowed that the Bill professed all the objects described by the hon. member for Middlesex: but would it carry those objects into effect? The Game Bill of last year professed to put an end to poaching. Had it done so? He had last year predicted what would be the result of the Game Bill; he now said the same thing of the Bill under consideration. What could be said in favour of a Bill which gave to a father the power of selling the dead body of a child—which gave to a husband the power of selling the dead body of a wife—which subjected those bodies to the grossest indecencies? [Mr. O'Connell observed, that the chance of such indecencies committed upon a corpse was better than the temptation to murder in the present system.] He did not envy the feelings of the man who looked at the subject with so much indifference. It was quite clear that the Bill gave to persons the power which he had described. None but the poor would avail themselves of that power; and, therefore, the Bill made a distinction between the poor and the rich. The petitioners laboured under no mistake, and he hoped that the House would attend to their prayer.

Mr. O'Connell

repeated, that it was much better to risk the chance of some indecencies being committed with respect to dead subjects, than to risk the chance of the living being converted into dead subjects by the atrocious practice of Burking. He hoped that somebody would dissect him when he was dead. He had endeavoured to be useful while he lived; and he should wish to be so after death. There was no such power in the Bill as that stated by the petitioners.

The petition to lie on the Table.

Mr. Hunt

, in moving that the petition be printed, said, that he differed from the hon. and learned Gentleman, with respect to the question of indecencies offered to the dead. He contended, that the petitioners were under no delusion with regard to the provisions of the Bill. There was a clause in it which gave power to all persons having legal possession of the bodies of persons who died while in their custody, to sell such bodies, and he apprehended that was quite sufficient to prove that the petitioners had correctly understood the Bill.

Petition to be printed.

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