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Journal Article


Ude-Koeller S, Knauer W, Viebahn C. Ann. Anat. 2012; 194(3): 304-313.


Abteilung Ethik und Geschichte der Medizin, Universitätsmedizin Göttingen, Humboldtallee 36, 37073 Göttingen, Germany.


(Copyright © 2012, Anatomische Gesellschaft, Publisher G. Fischer)






This report briefly summarises anatomical practice at Göttingen University from its founding in 1737 until the Nazi period and gives a detailed account of how Nazi death penalty legislation and execution practice at Wolfenbüttel prison influenced the decision-making of the anatomists in charge at that time. Problems in the procurement of corpses, encountered almost continuously throughout Europe since the broad introduction of dissection into medical training in the early 18th century, were absent in Göttingen during periods of overt progress in anatomical sciences, e.g. under Albrecht von Haller (in office 1736-1753) and Jacob Henle (1853-1885), and at times when existing regulations were rigorously enforced by the authorities (1814-1851). Ample availability of corpses in the wake of more than 600 executions in Wolfenbüttel between 1935 and 1945 was curtailed only by transportation fuel shortages and resulted in the dissection of more than 200 Nazi victim corpses in the Göttingen anatomy course. Apparently, neither individual offers of voluntary body donation (dating from 1932 to 1937 and published here as the earliest documents of this kind), nor the strong tradition of high-level anatomical research, nor even the awareness of the University's Age of Enlightenment origin, prevented the unethical use of corpses of Nazi victims for medical teaching. The Göttingen example may add "historical and moral detachment" under unusual political and wartime pressures to the "clinical and emotional detachment" thought to prevail amongst anatomy personnel (Hildebrandt, in this issue); together with the other reports it calls for all anatomists to bear in mind their ever present ethical obligations in respect to activities involving the use of corpses, both in medical schools and in the public domain.

Language: en


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