Public to handle human body parts at University workshop

The University of Edinburgh’s Anatomy Department has organised a series of six public workshops on human anatomy, allowing members of the public to handle pre-dissected anatomical specimens.

Over the course of several months, the workshops, open to the public at the cost of £100 each, will allow participants to get a close look at human cadaveric material.

Tom Gillingwater, Personal Chair of Neuroanatomy at the University, told The Student the workshops were designed as an opportunity for the members of the public to improve their anatomical knowledge.

“We believe strongly that the best way to learn and understand human anatomy is to see and handle real human specimens, but these will be integrated into the courses in a sensitive and delicate way.”

Each workshop, to be led by members of the University’s anatomy teaching staff, will focus on a different region of the body, beginning with “upper limb” and ending with “head and neck”.

The day-long sessions will include a mixture of lectures and practical sessions, with attendees learning from models and medical imaging technology in addition to anatomical specimens.

In the 19th century, anatomy lectures were a popular form of entertainment in Edinburgh, with demand for cadavers high enough to lead William Burke and William Hare to infamously murder more than a dozen victims and sell their corpses to be anatomised.

While media coverage of the sessions has characterised them as ‘dissections’ or ‘autopsies’, Gillingwater said no dissections will be performed during the workshops and the events will be strictly educational and professional in nature.

He criticised the ‘sensationalising’ coverage of many media outlets towards the workshops and claimed that the media was merely focused on gaining cheap headlines.

Gillingwater stressed that these events will be limited to those who would benefit from them, and that all applicants will be vetted to ensure they have a legitimate purpose for attending.

“These workshops are aimed at any member of the public who would benefit from additional anatomy knowledge. Good examples include physiotherapists, nurses and other similar NHS staff, anthropologists, scientists, artists, paramedics and academics.”

The series was organised in response to a lack of formal anatomy education for members of the public. Gillingwater said he hopes the courses will improve personal and professional performance for attendees, potentially benefiting public health and safety.

“The driver really came from continued high levels of demand from members of the public (including those working in the professions detailed above) who felt that there weren’t opportunities for them to learn anatomy in an expert environment with access to university-level staff and materials.”

Participants will also have the opportunity to have lunch in the University’s Anatomical Museum, normally opened to the public only once a month, giving them an opportunity to look at the history of medical teaching at the University.

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