Thursday, June 30, 2011

Medical education in Paris in the 1830's--cheap cadavers

Lewis Lapham discusses David McCullough's “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris."

Cadavers at $2.50 Lured Americans to 1830s Paris

"At noon, the cadavers were delivered to the dissecting rooms at the Amphitheatre d’Anatomie -- carts had arrived earlier and dumped the bodies of naked men and women on the pavement outside. Corpses came cheap: An adult cost 6 francs or about $2.50; a child could be had for less.

"The amphitheater was big enough for 600 students. They smoked cigars to offset the nauseating smell of putrefaction and walked gingerly to avoid slipping on the fragments of flesh littering the floor. Larger pieces were fed to caged dogs.

"It was a scene that in the 1830s drew students from all over to Paris, the medical capital of the world. Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the first Americans trained in the new clinical methods, wrote that to understand anatomy, he’d cut his subject “into inch pieces.” He could not have done so anywhere else, he added.

"Upon returning to the U.S., Holmes taught at Harvard Medical School until 1882, expounding the benefits of dissection, the microscope and the stethoscope, all of which were largely unknown in the U.S."

The situation in Britain (and the U.S.) was much less freewheeling. I wrote about cadavers for anatomy study in my article  Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets "

"When the British medical journal The Lancet published its first volume in 1824, its pages reflected a concern that too few cadavers were available for anatomy classes. The main source of cadavers was an illegal black market supplied by so-called “resurrection men,” and an editorial by that name opens with the news that a reliable resurrection man had recently been arrested and sentenced. The editorial goes on to suggest—in an early observation that how issues are framed may influence how they are perceived—that the government policy of only allowing the bodies of executed murderers to be used for anatomy studies “tends to keep up . . . the prejudice which is at present so strong against the obtaining of bodies for dissection” (Lancet, 1824).
... In Britain, the Anatomy Act of 1832 considerably expanded the source of legal cadavers for dissection.

1 comment:

Romero Martinez said...

This is a very interesting article. This only shows the cost of education. I like to read health and safety essay.