Anatomy teaching: ghosts of the past, present and future


John C McLachlan, Durham University, Queen's Campus Stockton, Holliday Building, University Boulevard, Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees TS17 6BH, UK. Tel: 00 44 191 334 0322; Fax: 00 44 192 334 0321; E-mail:


‘Ghost of the Future,’ he exclaimed, ‘I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?’ Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

Introduction  Anatomy teaching has perhaps the longest history of any component of formalised medical education. In this article we briefly consider the history of dissection, but also review the neglected topic of the history of the use of living anatomy.

Current debates  The current debates about the advantages and disadvantages of cadavers, prosection versus dissection, and the use of living anatomy and radiology instead of cadavers are discussed.

The future  Future prospects are considered, along with some of the factors that might inhibit change.