This was the topic of a public lecture on October 12 at UKZN by Professor Gareth Jones, Director of the Bioethics Centre and Professor of Anatomy and Structural Biology at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Professor Jones said, “Anatomists need ethics, however this has not always been so. After all, if anatomists fail to address ethical issues of direct relevance to the study of the dead human body, who is expected to do this? And yet anatomists have repeatedly fallen down when it has come to asserting the primacy of ethical standards in their profession. They have paid far too little attention to ethical strictures, and this has opened the way to some appalling ethical lapses in anatomical practice.

“As I have reflected on these issues, it has seemed that the manner in which we respond to the dead, the use we make of their skeletal remains and tissues, and the ways in which we learn about ourselves by studying them, raise ethical queries that go to the heart of what it means to be human, said Professor Jones”. 

For many years issues that anatomists would now consider to have ethical overtones were taken for granted.  Most people failed to recognise that there are ethical issues in anatomy.  Those in anatomy departments were spared from having to confront issues like informed consent, or of deciding what to tell patients faced by imminent death, or when to turn off respirators.  They simply dealt with dead people. The bodies had been obtained by legal, and usually legitimate, means, as had the brains used in neuro-anatomy classes and the skeletons that decorated the walls of the dissecting room, the anatomy museum, and sometimes the lecture theatre.

All this began to change as a revolutionary renaissance we now know as bioethics broadened and transformed what had been the much more confined domain of medical ethics.  Ethical analysis that had been confined to specifically clinical realms and to isolated topics such as abortion began to be applied to the reproductive technologies and organ transplantation, immediately raising profound ethical queries at both ends of life. 

Very simply it means taking great care that the interests of
author email : francism@ukan.ac.za