HC Deb 07 July 1842 vol 64 cc1113-7
Mr. Hardy

rose, pursuant to the following notice:— To take into consideration the petition of William Roberts on the Anatomy Act, and to move for a committee to inquire and report on the working thereof, and to recommend, if necessary, amendments of the same. The petitioner, he said, had discovered a fluid which, applied to human bodies after death, rendered them capable of being used for anatomical purposes in the summer months, and for a much longer time than without such preparation they could be rendered available for the purposes of science. But it was stated to the petitioner, that the summer lecturers were opposed to the use of the fluid invented by Mr. Roberts, and proposed to be used in preventing the putrefaction of animal substances. It appeared that Mr. Roberts had discovered a mode of preserving bodies for the purpose of dissection, which would prevent medical students from injuring their health, or running the risk of losing their lives, which they frequently did under the present system; and therefore he trusted that the House would agree to his motion.

Sir J. Graham

said, that amidst the great variety of subjects that were brought under the consideration of the House, scarcely any question was less calculated for public discussion in an assembly of that kind than the present one. He thought also that it was still less eligible for discussion before any tribunal which that House might appoint. He admitted, at the same time, the importance of the question. However distressing it might be to the feelings of some persons, it was absolutely necessary, for the benefit of the living, that anatomy should be practised. Until the Anatomy Act was passed, there were many outrages committed upon public decency, and much danger to human life was incurred in the mode in which bodies were procured for dissection. During the inquiries before the committee which was appointed at the suggestion of Mr. Warburton, to whose exertions the passing of the Anatomy Bill was mainly attributable, sufficiently disgusting exposures were made respecting the disinterment of bodies; but since that bill had become the law of the land, the scenes of violence and crime which accompanied those exhumations had almost, if not entirely ceased. He would inform his hon. and learned Friend that so long ago as that time, Mr. Warburton was in communication with the inventor upon the subject. It was then thought that the experiment of Mr. Roberts would be an available one. He could not dissemble from the House that two or three of the enactments of the Anatomy Act had not been complied with; but he wished to set his hon. and learned friend right with regard to the provision respecting inspectors. The act did not prescribe three inspectors, but the clause was of a permissive nature, giving a power to appoint three inspectors should that number be thought necessary. One only had been nominated, consequently the expense of the whole establishment was less than if three had been appointed, while, he believed, the duty was better fulfilled than it would be if three inspectors were engaged. As to the quarterly returns, he had in his office distinct proofs that his predecessors had from time to time watched the working of the act, therefore it had not been a dead letter; and he could assure his hon. and learned Friend that he had paid due attention to this department of his public business. The allegations respecting the burial of bodies were submitted by himself to a commission consisting of Mr. Rogers, a Queen's counsel, and he believed now a deputy judge-advocate, and Mr. Green, a distinguished surgeon! and all the abuses complained of were checked, Dr. Somerville being warned of them and desired to prevent their re- currence. All the provisions of the act were, he believed, most carefully attended to. Having stated the substance of the report, he hoped the House would not press for its production. Passing from the Anatomy Bill, he would now come to the prayer of the petition, which he believed to be, under the guise of an attempt to carry out more effectively the objects of that bill, an application of a grant from the public purse for an alleged discovery of national importance. If Mr. Roberts had made such a discovery as he had described, he would be entitled to a reward; but from the best information he had been able to collect, he was led to the conclusion that such was not the case. His hon. Friend had mentioned a certificate which was signed in 1836 by many eminent men, who stated that, from what they saw, it was a discovery of great importance and most useful to society. Three names were mentioned by his hon. Friend—Sir B. Brodie, Mr. Stanley, and Mr. Green—and three more eminent persons and competent judges of the matter could scarcely have been found. His hon. Friend also said, that the teachers of anatomy were prejudiced against Mr. Roberts, and wished to continue the present system for the sake of obtaining pupils. Why, to such a man as Sir B. Brodie it must be a positive sacrifice to be withdrawn from his professional business with patients; but he was a man who disregarded personal advantages in his zeal for the promotion and improvement of that science which he adorned. In April, 1836, Mr. Roberts proposed to the College of Surgeons that they should give him 1,000l. for his invention, and use their interest with the Government to procure for him a further sumof 2,000l. I cannot find that the College (says Sir B. Brodie) ever answered this application. Mr. Roberts afterwards made some similar proposals to the teachers of anatomical schools. Sir A. Cooper and myself signed a paper, which you have seen, after examining a body which Mr. Roberts said had been unburied some time. But subsequently it appeared that the whole experiment was a complete failure. This was the testimony given on the authority of Mr. Harrison, the treasurer of Guy's Hospital, and Mr. Stanley. Sir B. Brodie went on to state that the same discovery had been made in France; and he added in his communication— However, useful it may be, it can never supersede the necessity of dissection; He thought, then, that it was sufficiently clear from the opinions of men whose original impressions were in favour of the discovery, that it had been already fully investigated, and had proved to be a failure. He therefore trusted that his hon. and learned Friend would not press his motion.

Mr. Hardy

replied, that he should be sorry to press this or any other motion upon the attention of the House after observations similar to those just made by the right hon. Baronet. He was not aware that the facts detailed in the petition, which certainly seemed to be very extraordinary in their nature, had been the subject of previous consideration, or he would not have urged them again upon the notice of the House and the Government. After what had been stated by the right hon. Baronet, and seeing the disposition of the House, he should not press his motion.

Motion withdrawn.