History of Cadaver Dissection

The study of human anatomy by means of cadaver dissection has a long tradition dating back many centuries. The Greek physician, Herophilus (335-280BC), is credited with being the first to use dissection as the basis for his understanding of the human body and is known as the father of anatomy. In addition to considerable information about the nervous system, Herophilus also demonstrated that arteries were filled with blood, not air. It was not until much later in 14th Century Italy that cadaver dissection became part of a student’s medical education. These dissections were only performed once or twice each year by the professor, and students were invited to observe. Religious pressure on the government kept cadaver dissections illegal. Grave robbers were employed to obtain the necessary human anatomical specimens. Non-human animals were also dissected, occasionally leading to some unfortunate anatomical misconceptions. Medical students began dissecting cadavers themselves during the 18th century in Paris and London. In 1831, it became legal to use unclaimed bodies for medical education in Massachusetts. However, not many bodies went unclaimed and the demands for human anatomical specimens increased as the number of individuals seeking a medical education increased. In 1839, therefore, the first organization was formed in Chicago to allow individuals to donate their bodies as anatomical gifts. This organization established a series of guidelines for donation and for embalming that set the cornerstone for the rules and regulations in place today.

Human Anatomical Specimens

The cadavers used at The Institute of Human Anatomy (IOHA) come from various whole body donor programs. The only way that a cadaver lab is possible is that someone made a conscious choice that upon their death they would donate their body for students to dissect and observe. This is no small decision! When signing an agreement, in accordance with the regulations of their respective donor program, these donors were well aware of what they were doing including the potential risks. By allowing their bodies to lie on cadaver lab tables at institutions of education such as ours they have put complete trust in students and faculty to treat their bodies with the utmost respect! This decision was made as an act of service so as to allow other people the opportunity to learn and in turn provide health-related service to others.

The people that donate their bodies to this program could be anyone. They are grandparents, parents and family members of people living in our region. These relatives of donors have entrusted their loved ones body to our care prior to final cremation.

These cadavers were donated under specific state and federal regulations. The individual donating their body does not receive financial compensation, and therefore, this is a gift to be treated in a professional manner with respect. For those of you entering a medical profession, these cadavers may be your first patients. Other anatomy students may use the dissected specimen for several workshops. These students rely on your expertise and your care of the specimen. Ultimately, the cadaver will be returned to the donor program, where the remains will be cremated.


In most cases, low concentrations of 2-Phenoxyethanol, or other chemicals with similar properties, are used to preserve the cadavers for study. 2-Phenoxyethanol is classified as a carcinogen. It is imperative, therefore, that the doors remain closed during courses so that the ventilation system is optimized and your exposure to these chemicals is reduced. Phenol also can be used in embalming solutions. Phenol is flammable, caustic and volatile at full strength.

Cadavers arrive at our lab perfused with these and other chemicals. While in our lab cadavers will frequently be wetted with chemicals such as those described above in order to help preserve and protect them from mold and fungi growths. The concentration of toxic chemicals in these “wetting solutions” is diluted to less than 4% by volume. However, if you are pregnant, or have a respiratory condition or some other medical condition that may be exacerbated by exposure to these chemicals, you may wish to reconsider your participation in this course.


You must follow these rules and regulations in order to participate in any courses utilizing the cadaver lab. Your disregard of any of these regulations could result in your immediate dismissal from class:

a. The cadaver lab is a restricted area. You may not take any photographs or videos at any time. No cell phones, cameras or digital recording devices of any kind are allowed in the lab.

b. No body parts or tissues may be removed from the cadaver lab at any time.

c. Only those students enrolled in the anatomy course are allowed to participate in any way.

d. Do not bring any friends or visitors into the cadaver lab.

e. The doors to the cadaver lab must be closed and locked at all times.

f. Disrespect of any kind for the cadaver will not be tolerated.

g. Any accidents or allergic reactions must be reported to the instructor of record immediately.

h. Do not remove any identifying tags or security monitoring devices from the cadaver.

i. Identity of cadavers must remain confidential to people outside of the lab. The federal government through the HIPPA program has regulated privacy issues regarding patients in health care settings. For students preparing for health care professions this lab will provide an opportunity to begin practicing the privacy policies enforced in clinical medicine.


Many people feel apprehensive about working with cadavers. This is understandable especially in light of the societal perspectives regarding death and bodies that influence our thinking. However, we do not need to dwell upon these apprehensive feelings, and most people feel comfortable working with the bodies after a short period. Remember, the donors made a deliberate choice. They chose to provide a learning opportunity for you. Treat the bodies with respect and focus on the unique opportunity of learning that has willingly been afforded you.

Refund Policy:

Courses offered directly through the Institute of Human Anatomy adhere tot he following refund policy: Tuition fees are 100% refundable up to seven (7) days prior to the course date, thereafter, 75% of tuition fees are refundable up to the day prior to the course. No refunds are issued the day class begins or thereafter. If weather or some other unforeseeable event forces IOHA to cancel or reschedule a class, a 100% refund is available. All courses offered or sponsored through a partnering entity that requires payment be made directly to partner will adhere to the return policy of the sponsoring partner.

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