HC Deb 27 February 1832 vol 10 cc832-44

Mr. Warburton moved the Order of the Day that the further consideration of the Report of the Committee upon the Anatomy Bill be read.

Mr. Hunt

objected to the Bill going through any progress at that late hour of the night (haif-past eleven), especially as many Members had left the House upon the understanding that the further consideration of the Report would be postponed in the event of its not being brought forward at an earlier hour of the evening.

Mr. Wason

supported the Motion for then proceeding.

Sir Robert Inglis

wished to remind the House, that the important subject of the Bill had been discussed in Parliament several years ago, and it had then been observed that no Member, except he were the organ of Government, could be able to bring forward the discussion at a period sufficiently early to ensure an adequate consideration of the details of the Bill. It was evident to all persons, that some provision ought to be made by law for the interests of this branch of science. It had been argued that the anatomy of inferior animals, or that a model of the human frame would afford sufficient means of studying the anatomy of man; but he believed that no practical anatomist or experienced surgeon would support such an opinion. No study from a model could be progressive; and, in practical surgery, it was necessary that the operator should be able to estimate the resistance afforded by human flesh. Out of twenty-two medical men who had been examined upon the subject, eighteen had concurred in the testimony that the art of surgery could not be acquired without the study of anatomy by dissection. Notwithstanding the legal difficulties of procuring bodies for this dissection, the law imposed heavy penalties upon surgeons for the want of professional skill; and only a few days ago an action of this description was reported in the newspapers. While the by-laws of the College of Surgeons required that experiments should be made upon the human body, the subject to be operated upon must be obtained surreptitiously and fraudulently, and in violation of the law of the land. The question then resolved itself into whether the study of surgery and anatomy should be pursued in England, or whether surgeons should be obliged to resort to foreign countries, in order to acquire their professional education. This was a point of all others which concerned the poor, for the rich alone would be able to procure the proper treatment of their disorders, if scientific education were to be made expensive and of difficult attainment. He would wish to dissociate in the public mind the idea of dissection and disgrace, and for this reason he would exclude from dissection the bodies of murderers and of suicides. Above all things he would keep from dissection the bodies of those who died in hospitals, for it was essential that those whose duty it was to cure should have no interest to kill. He would wish to save the dying man from the slightest suspicion that the doctor had any interest in his death. How, then, were subjects for dissection to be procured? He objected to any open sale—to any market of human flesh. He would proceed to say who, in his opinion, ought to be dissected? First, all who chose to leave their bodies for dissection, or who chose to sell their bodies during their lives, securing to them the right of pre-emption in the re-purchase of their bodies on paying due interest; then all who died in workhouses,and who were unclaimed by their friends, or whose friends had not expressed a dislike to their being dissected. This latter would afford a large supply of bodies; and if bodies were necessary at all, a large number was necessary. He would not connect the idea of dissection with poverty, and, therefore, it was his object that paupers dying in workhouses should not be given up for dissection, if they had expressed any repugnance to this disposal of their bodies. He would also provide that the body, after dissection, should receive the rites of Christian burial. The number of surgical pupils in London was 700, and the number of Anatomical Schools was twelve. The demand for subjects for dissection would not exceed 1,100 per annum. In the parish of St. Giles, in one year, 599 paupers had been buried out of the parochial funds, whilst in that of Mary-lebone, within the same period, the number had been 606. The total number per annum in all the parishes of London might be taken at 5,204, and, if only one-third of these paupers died without expressing any repugnance to having their bodies dissected, the schools of the metropolis would be sufficiently supplied. The friends and relations of the deceased ought likewise to have the right of claiming the bodies of the dead. It was clear that this or some similar Bill was absolutely necessary, in order to prevent a repetition of those scenes which the public had witnessed with horror during the last three years.

Mr. Rigby Wason

presumed the hon. Member who brought in the Bill, proposed by its means to prevent the horrible crime of Burking, and the disgraceful practice of exhumation, on the one hand; and to provide subjects for anatomical dissection, on the other. The great difficulty of attaining the latter was, the desire of almost all classes of people to pay proper respect to the remains of their deceased friends. This was said to be a prejudice; but, he believed, the repugnance to dissection was connected with the kindliest feelings of human nature. He would very readily allow that it was necessary that surgeons should have the means of attaining a scientific education, and the greater facilities were afforded for this, the more advantageous it would be for society in general; but he did not think that the Bill now before the House was calculated to effect the objects proposed. To most of the clauses he had strong objections. He held it to be a bad principle to permit, under any circumstances, the sale of dead bodies, because such a practice was calculated to produce excitement in the public mind, from the facility by which murder might be concealed, in some cases, by the sale of the body. Again, the powers given by the Bill were greater than the subject required: the governors of work-houses, hospitals, and of every institution for the relief of suffering humanity—the keepers of gaols—even landlords, whose lodgers might die—were authorised to dispose of all bodies, unless claimed by relatives. The hon. member for Oxford had clearly shown, that, from one source alone, a sufficient supply of subjects could be had: therefore, that should be taken under express legislative provisions; and all other sources of supply be prohibited. But there was one provision in this Bill, so extraordinary, that it had only to be mentioned to excite attention. The object being to prevent surgeons obtaining subjects in an improper manner, it was provided, that he who attended, or professed so to do, a deceased person, and who wanted a subject, might give himself a certificate that all was right. Again, inspectors were to be appointed to examine all bodies previous to dissection, and their number was to be limited to three. Dissection must, therefore, either be confined to some local districts, or some other regulation must be made by an increase of inspectors, if their duty was to be performed efficiently, or their office be considered a safeguard to the public, to prevent subjects being obtained surreptitiously. He considered it would be an improvement in the Bill, if certain places were licensed by Government, in which only dissection could be practised; and that the supply of subjects should be limited to those persons dying in work-houses—a register being kept in them of all bodies sent out, and another kept in those places where dissection was permitted, which should also be open for inspection by Magistrates. This would prevent abuses, be much more simple than the hon. Member's plan, and infinitely more economical. All these ends might be obtained, by an enactment embracing the following heads:

  1. 1. Anatomical schools to be licensed.
  2. 2. Teachers, possessing only certain qualifications, to be licensed.
  3. 3. Registry of all bodies brought in: false registry, or non-registry, to subject the parties to fine and imprisonment.
  4. 4. Work-houses to keep similar registers.
  5. 5. No bodies to be sent to the schools, if objected to by certain relatives.
  6. 6. No prosecution on this subject, unless instituted by the Attorney General within six months.
  7. 836
  8. 7. Murderers' bodies not to be dissected.
He should propose these as amendments to the Bill to be adopted, in the most convenient manner to facilitate its progress; as he considered it necessary to legislate on the subject, and to do so with as little shock as the subject would admit of to the feelings of the people.

Sir Frederick Trench

thought that a great majority of the clauses would prove nugatory, and would not give the facility intended by the hon. member for Bridport; indeed, he was inclined to look upon the Bill as an additional stimulus to Burking. Instead of the Bill being entitled what it was, it ought to be called "a Bill to encourage Burking." He was inclined to think that the surgeons had it in their power to remove a great deal of the difficulty attending the mode of obtaining dead bodies, by examining carefully all the bodies which were offered for sale. He would suggest, that the bodies of persons found dead, or drowned, not claimed by friends, should be given up for dissection; and he would also have the bodies of suicides, and persons dying in insane establishments, similarly treated. He thought that persons in their lifetime should be allowed to demise their bodies when they should die, receiving remuneration: but he could not approve of the proposal that the bodies of persons dying in workhouses should be subject to dissection. A person being poor was no reason why his remains should be treated with indignity. He did not think the object of the Bill would conquer the repugnance which was felt to dissection.

Mr. More O'Farrell

suggested, that no removal of a body should be allowed without a certificate as to the death of which he had died. As the Bill stood at present, being confined to England, bodies might be brought from Ireland into this country without any such certificate; so that it seemed to him that the Bill was holding out a premium for murder in Ireland.

Mr. Warburton

had no objection to the Bill being extended to Ireland, provided that Irish Members would take on themselves to say, that such an extension would be useful.

Mr. Stanley

said, that a deputation from the Irish College of Surgeons had called on him, and proposed certain modifications for the admission of the Bill into Ireland. It had, however, been arranged, that it would be better to see how the Bill worked in England, after which (if deemed advis- able) it might be extended to Ireland; but there was an objection which he had decidedly to make to what had been proposed with respect to Ireland, which was, that all the bodies should be disposed of by the Chief Secretary for Ireland.

Lord William Lennox

was afraid the Bill would not tend to decrease crime: if it prevented Burking, on one hand, it gave individuals, on the other, a direct interest, if not to murder, yet to neglect their sick relatives, in order that they might have their bodies to sell. He was an advocate for every respect being paid to the remains of deceased friends; for he had frequently witnessed the impression the funeral service made on the minds of soldiers. There were several parts of the Bill to which he felt objections, but the chief was, that its provisions affected only the poorer sort of people.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, that it was very disgusting to enact that every body not claimed should be given up for dissection. Supposing an Irish labourer came over here, and died in an hospital, of course there would be no relations to claim him. If the hon. member for Bridport chose to give up his own body, nobody could have any objection. He should not mind giving up his body, though, to be sure, it was not worth much. He must also protest against the opinion advanced by the hon. member for Cambridge (Sir Frederick Trench), with respect to the bodies of insane persons. Although they might have no feeling themselves on the subject, yet the malady was distressing enough to the feelings of their friends, not to require dissection to be added to make their sufferings more acute. People complained of the severity of the penal laws; but, in his opinion, crimes were not punished with sufficient severity—especially those most rascally of all criminals, horse-stealers, who were tried at every Assize, and yet rarely ever got hanged, which they richly deserved. The bodies of persons of that description should be dissected.

Mr. Sheil

con tended, that if the importation of bodies from Dublin into England was not to be encouraged, then the provisions of the Bill ought to be extended to Ireland. The Secretary for Ireland said, a deputation from the surgeons in Dublin had expressed themselves contented with the prospect of a Bill being introduced in a subsequent Session. But were the surgeons the only party to be considered? Surely not. Humanity was interested, and, in the name of humanity, he contended that protection ought to be given to Ireland.

Mr. Warburton

said, he should be ready to meet all objections in Committee.

Mr. Weyland

said, he was so inimical to the principle of the Bill, that no alteration could reconcile him to it, nor would the moral feeling of the country ever tolerate it. He thought the demand ought to be lessened, by confining the supply of dead bodies to anatomical schools alone, and to those he would give the dead bodies of criminals. He would also allow people to bequeath their bodies for dissection, if they chose to do so.

The House divided on the Motion for reading the Order of the Day:—Ayes 64; Noes 13;—Majority 51.

List of the Noes.
Bateson, sir R. O'Farrell, R. M.
Chichester, J. P. B. Pelham, J. C.
Gordon, J. E. Ruthven, E. S.
Grattan, Henry Thicknesse, Ralph
Hodges, T. L. Wyse, T.
Hunt, Henry TELLER.
Lennox, Lord W. Sibthorp, Col.

Order of the Day read.

Mr. Warburton moved, that the Bill be re-committed, and that the Speaker leave the Chair.

Mr. Hunt

said, his objections to this Bill were not to be overcome: he could not reconcile the principles of it to his feelings, and he knew most other persons entertained the same repugnance to its provisions. It was said to be founded on the Report of a Committee; but on what authority had the Committee made its Report, except on the evidence of a parcel of surgeons? and even the members of that profession were not all agreed upon the subject; for Mr. Guthrie, the eminent surgeon, had recently published a pamphlet, wherein he stated, that the Committee themselves were unfit to conduct such an inquiry. The hon. member for Bridport talked of a free trade in dead bodies, and seemed to think but little of persons selling the bodies of their nearest relatives; but he (Mr. Hunt) declared, that the person who would sell the body of his father or mother, would not scruple to commit murder. The hon. member for the University of Oxford had said, that he (Mr. Hunt) considered that anatomy might be superseded by practising on artificial subjects. He had never said so, for he was fully aware, that, to understand the science of anatomy, it was necessary to practise dissection upon the human subject; but he did say, and he repeated it now, that there was no occasion for carrying dissection to such an extent as to mangle bodies in the most disgusting manner. The hon. Baronet also wished that the bodies of murderers and suicides should be exempted from dissection; these were the proper subjects, in his opinion, upon which it should be practised. The hon. Member was of opinion, that the practice of giving up the murderer's body to dissection generated a prejudice against dissection; that was not Mr. Guthrie's opinion. Mr. Guthrie said, When Gentlemen in their places in the House of Commons say it is the stigma which is attached to the dissection of murderers that prevents other persons either from leaving their own bodies for anatomical purposes, or from permitting those of their friends to be dissected, and that if this stigma were removed, the reverse would take place, and that people would allow themselves and their friends to be dissected as freely as the anatomical student can desire;—I cannot refrain from inquiring what proof they have of the assertion? And I do not hesitate to say, with all due submission, that they have no proof whatever; and if they will not feel offended at the remark, I will add that they have adopted the opinion on the faith of some one of their medical acquaintance or of some reviewer, without making any substantial investigation of the subject themselves. It is a very fashionable opinion, I admit, among medical men in the present day; but will any one man in the profession who maintains it, affirm that he is himself deterred from leaving his body for dissection by the stigma. I do not believe that there is a single man who will answer yes. They know better. The late Dr. Gooch first broached to the public, in the Quarterly Review, the insufferable doctrine, that the poor and honest man should be dissected because he was poor, and that the murderer, the thief, and the rogue, should escape this process, because the doctors, forsooth, declared it to be an unobjectionable one, which all poor men should like, and which rogues and thieves disgrace, and to which they attach a stigma. But did he act up to the opinion he thus edited? Did he set an example of his belief in it by leaving his body for dissection? He did no such thing; but when he died, which happened shortly afterwards, he took care to have himself buried in the usual manner. I have argued, in my former letter, that there is no more reason for a medical man's giving up his body for anatomical purposes than for any other person; this I argued on general principles: but if a medical man maintains the opinion, that dissection is an unobjectionable process, which people ought to submit the dead bodies of their friends to for the sake of science, and the benefit of the living, I, in my turn, maintain that they are bound to set the example. Will they do it, or have they done it? The late Mr. Abernethy was a student and teacher of anatomy for nearly fifty years—a sufficient length of time, it will be admitted, to have enabled him to overcome all prejudice against dissection, and to have satisfied him that it was a process all honest men should be submitted to. The reader will be desirous to know what effect it had upon him—what his directions were for the good of science and of mankind. They were, I believe, that he should not even be opened, much more given over for anatomical purposes; and his family followed him to the grave, as all good men should be followed, and did their best to preserve his remains inviolate. With reference to the opinion of persons not objecting to dissection, Mr. Guthrie afterwards alluded to the late Mr.Bennett, of the London University, whom he described as being notoriously addicted to anatomy. The instance he said, of the late Mr. Bennett, professor of anatomy in the London University, is even stronger. He was a gentleman notoriously addicted to dissection, and was one of the most prominent in his endeavours to secure the success of Mr. Warburton's late Bill, which handed over the poor in every part of Great Britain for dissection. He died of a doubtful complaint, after a long and lingering illness. He knew that his medical friends wished to ascertain the cause of death, but so strong was his prejudice, as regarded himself, that he left the most positive directions that he should not even be opened—that is, merely examined, to ascertain the nature of his disease. He left the direction with so many people, that they felt they could not break through it and yield to the solicitations of the physicians who had attended him during his illness. Will any one say this repugnance to be even opened arose from the circumstance of murderers being dissected? No: every one must acknowledge that it did not; but that it was caused by a strong prejudice he entertained on the subject, which neither time, reason, nor a life employed in dissection, could remove, but had on the contrary strongly confirmed. Has any one poor man been ever known to say that he would leave his body for dissection if murderers were not dissected by law? I answer confidently not one, but that they all have, and cherish, and will continue to cherish, the same prejudice as Mr. Bennett. To his mind, the following case quoted by Mr. Guthrie, was a still more remarkable illustration:— The late Sir William Myers was mortally wounded, whilst on horseback at the head of the fusileer brigade, at the battle of Albuhera, by a musket ball, which broke his right thigh and passed upwards into his body. I had him carried to the village of Valverde, and soon saw that he was dying from mortification of the bowels. At one o'clock in the morning he asked me to tell him the truth as to his situation without reserve, and on my doing so, his reply was, "How many envied me the command of the fusileers a few hours ago—how few will envy me now." He then said, "he had one favour to ask of me which if I would promise to grant, he should die contented." I pledged my word, and he then said, "You know I have always insisted upon the surgeons of my regiment and of the brigade, having the right of examining the bodies of all the men who died in quarters, and that I frequently attended myself to countenance the proceeding. You say my wound is as extraordinary as it is unfortunate. I have, I confess it, a prejudice against being opened, of which I am ashamed, but which I cannot get the better of,—promise me that it shall not be done." I promised. He shook my hand and said all his other affairs were settled. At three o'clock, I laid down to rest until daylight, when I found he had just expired. This gallant soldier's prejudice was just as strong as Mr. Abernethy's or Mr. Bennett's; but no one, I feel convinced, will say it had anything to do with the dissection of murderers. Bishop and Williams it is said, were more distressed at the idea of being dissected than at being hanged. They, like Mr. Abernethy, Mr. Bennett, Sir William Myers, and myself, knew too much of the process to like it. I personally have no objection to being opened, and examined as to the cause of death, but I do not intend to be dissected if I can avoid it; and if any man were to say to me that he supposed that my objection would be removed as soon as the dissection of murderers was done away, I should only be prevented by civility from laughing at him. It was proposed, too, that the bodies of the poor were to be given up for this purpose, but he should certainly propose au amendment to substitute sinecurists in their place; and he apprehended, that if such a provision could be introduced, the Bill would have as many opponents in that House as it had now supporters. It was said, that to object to the body being dissected, was a vulgar prejudice, but few of the refined people liked it themselves. It might be very laudable in a member of the Royal Family to offer his body for that purpose, but his was almost a solitary instance, and he begged to refer to Mr. Guthrie's pamphlet, and to the cases he had therein specified, of persons who were fond of junking up the bodies of others, but who shewed the utmost repugnance to have the same measure practised on their own, and that gentleman further remarked, that the Bill might be a very good one for anatomists, but that it did not give the slightest protection to the public. He hoped the Bill, therefore, would be withdrawn; he admitted that the proper education of surgeons was a great advantage, but that might be purchased at too dear a rate, if it was to be attended with the demoralization of the people; and the only protection afforded to persons dying in a workhouse, was leaving a paper desiring to have their bodies buried without dissection; but as it was the interest of the Governors to destroy such, how many did the Committee think would be produced? He understood that bodies could be imported from foreign countries, to answer all the purposes of dissection; that practice ought to be encouraged; he was determined to oppose the Bill, and almost every clause of it to the utmost of his power.

Mr. Macaulay

—Sir, I cannot, even at this late hour of the night, refrain from saying two or three words. Most of the observations of the hon. member for Preston I pass by, as undeserving of any answer, before an audience like this. But on one part of his speech I must make a few remarks. We are, says he, making a law to benefit the rich, at the expense of the poor. Sir, the fact is the direct reverse of this. This is a bill which tends especially to the benefit of the poor. What are the evils against which we are attempting to make provision? Two especially; that is to say, the practice of Burking and bad surgery. Now to both these the poor alone are exposed. What man, in our rank of life runs the smallest risk of being Burked? That a man has property, that he has connections, that he is likely to be missed and sought for, are circumstances which secure him against the Burker. It is curious to observe the difference between murders of this kind and other murders. An ordinary murderer hides the body, and disposes of the property. Bishop and Williams dig holes and bury the property, and expose the body to sale. The more wretched, the more lonely, any human being may be, the more desirable prey is he to these wretches. It is the man, the mere naked man, that they pursue. Again, as to bad surgery; this is, of all evils, the evil by which the rich suffer least, and the poor most. If we could do all that in the opinion of the member for Preston ought to be done,—if we could prevent disinterment,—if we could prevent dissection, —if we could destroy the English school of anatomy,—if we could force every student of the medical science to go to the expense of a foreign education, on whom would the bad consequences fall? On the rich?—Not at all. As long as there is in France, in Italy, in Germany, a single surgeon of emineht skill, a single surgeon who is, to use the phrase of the member for Preston, addicted to dissection, that surgeon will be in attendance whenever an English nobleman is about to undergo a critical operation. The higher orders in England will always be able to procure the best medical assistance. Who suffers by the bad state of the Russian school of surgery? The Emperor Nicholas?—By no means. But the poor dispersed over the country. If the education of a surgeon should become very expensive, if the fees of surgeons should rise, if the supply of regular surgeons should diminish, the sufferers would be, not the rich, but the poor in our country villages, who would again be left to mountebanks, and barbers, and old women; to charms and quack medicines. The hon. Gentleman talks of sacrificing the interests of humanity to the interests of science, as if this were a question about the squaring of the circle, or the transit of Venus. This is not a mere question of science—it is not the unprofitable exercise of an ingenious mind—it is a question of care and pain. It is a question of life and death. Does the hon. Gentleman know from what cruel sufferings the improvement of surgical science has rescued our species? I will tell him one story, the first that comes into my head. He may have heard of Leopold, Duke of Austria, the same who imprisoned our Richard Coeur-de-Lion. Leopold's horse fell under him, and crushed his leg. The surgeons said that the limb must be amputated; but none of them knew how to amputate it. Leopold in his agony, laid a hatchet on his thigh, and ordered his servant to strike with a mallet. The leg was cut off and he died of the gush of blood. Such was the end of that powerful prince. Why, there is not now a bricklayer who falls from a ladder in England, who cannot obtain surgical assistance, infinitely superior to that which the sovereign of Austria could command in the twelfth century. I think this a bill which tends to the good of the people, and which tends especially to the good of the poor. Therefore I support it. If it is unpopular, I am sorry for it. But I shall cheerfully take my share of its unpopularity. For such, I am convinced, ought to be the conduct of one whose object it is, not to flatter the people, but to serve them.

The House divided on the Motion for going into the Committee: Ayes 59; Noes 7; Majority 52.

House in Committee, Bill considered, and Report ordered to be taken into further consideration on a future day.

House resumed.