Letter: Dissection: a respectful voyage of discovery

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Sir: All methods of disposal of the dead have their emotional problems, and David Delvin's out-of- date account of a dissecting room contributes nothing ('Beware, Aunt Edna, if you give your all', 7 July). He has obviously not been in a dissecting room for years. At St George's, we dissect 25 to 30 bodies a year. Most of our bodies have had their eyes removed, so the donors have given not only their bodies, but the potential gift of sight to a blind person.

No one leaves the bodies lying around naked; they would dry out, harden and mummify. Bodies embalmed by modern techniques are so pliable that at least 10 of ours are used each year so that highly qualified and skilled surgeons can investigate the anatomy required to advance techniques in such fields as cardiac resuscitation and artificial hip placements under realistic conditions.

Like all good departments, when our students dissect, we keep the removed organs in individual, identified storage. The portrayal that dissection involves chopping the body up into unidentifiable little bits is ludicrous. It is all very well for Dr Delvin to sensationalise, making donations more difficult - he has done his training. But much has changed since his antiquated experience. Today we teach clinically relevant anatomy, the anatomy that practising doctors need to know, not the ultimate detail for surgeons.

When examining a living patient, the dissecting room experience allows you to know what organs are under your hands, and that is what distinguishes a doctor from a quack.

The donation of your body for dissection means that future doctors, dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers and surgeons will all have better training. After all, the alternatives to donation are without any contribution to humanity: to rot, to burn or to be eaten by fish.

Our students and staff treat our subjects with respect, fully aware of the traumatic sacrifice made by their living relatives. Many attend the annual memorial service for these rather special people, the donors.

Yours sincerely,


Professor and Chairman


St George's Hospital Medical


London, SW17

7 July