Teaching anatomy without cadavers


Prof. J C McLachlan, Peninsula Medical School, C306 Portland Square, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK. E-mail: john.mclachlan@pms.ac.uk


Background  Anatomy learning is generally seen as essential to medicine, and exposure to cadavers is generally seen as essential to anatomy learning around the world. Few voices dissenting from these propositions can be identified.

Aims  This paper aims to consider arguments relating to the use of cadavers in anatomy teaching, and to describe the rationale behind the decision of a new UK medical school not to use cadaveric material.

Discussion  First, the background to use of cadavers in anatomy learning is explored, and some general educational principles are explored. Next, arguments for the use of human cadaveric material are summarised. Then, possible arguments against use of cadavers, including educational principles as well as costs, hazards and practicality, are considered. These are much less well explored in the existing literature. Next, the rationale behind the decision of a new UK medical school not to use cadaveric material is indicated, and the programme of anatomy teaching to be employed in the absence of the use of human remains is described. Curriculum design and development, and evaluation procedures, are briefly described. Issues surrounding pathology training by autopsy, and postgraduate training in surgical anatomy, are not addressed in this paper.

Future directions  Evidence relating to the effect on medical learning by students not exposed to cadavers is scant, and plainly opportunities will now arise through our programme to gather such evidence. We anticipate that this discussion paper will contribute to an ongoing debate, in which virtually all previous papers on this topic have concluded that use of cadavers is essential to medical learning.