Man is a funny animal.
One of the earliest signs of civilization is a fearful respect for the dead: generally speaking (though with some notable exceptions) the corpse of the deceased was dressed up in his best robes, buried together with his most precious belongings and revered as if the departed had joined the ranks of the Gods.
Quite naturally even then no one really believed that inside we are as homogeneous as a potato: countless gory deaths in battle and accident showed mercilessly that beneath our skin we resemble all too closely the cattle we slaughter for food; that’s most likely the reason why even in ancient languages we find words for ‘liver’, ‘heart’, ‘brain’, ‘bones’, ‘bowels’ and so on referred also to the human being.
Nevertheless many centuries had to pass before someone dared to open up a human corpse to study the way we are made inside. Religions forbade such a practice as sacrilegious, and quite understandably the relatives weren’t very enthralled with the notion of dear old dead Granpa being cut up like a calf just to satisfy the curiosity of a handful of scholarly eggheads.
Countless stories, true and fictional, have been written about the infamous ‘body snatchers’ that in the night unearthed the freshest corpses to hand them over to some ruthless surgeon: think of the mercifully fictional Dr. Frankenstein, or of the dreadfully real Burke and Hare, who in the XIX century didn’t even take the trouble of waiting till their merchandise passed away spontaneously before selling their remains to a Dr. Robert Knox, who would publicly dissect them during his lectures…
Creepy, right? Yet look at the flip side of the coin: regardless how we can delude ourselves, Death is one way only and that can’t be helped, at least so far.
But by dissecting a dead body that will re-enter anyway the everlasting cycle of life we can learn a lot about how to help another human being to stay alive, even if we find the very notion appalling.
A hell of a call indeed: instinct shouts us not to, logic whispers that we should…
Eventually logic prevailed: in the last couple of centuries anatomy has become a real, dependable science describing in the most minute details how devilishly complicated we are inside, and in most cases how to fix us if something goes wrong. The ones who think it wasn’t worth the while please raise a hand… how comes that I see no raised hand?