The social life of the dead : the role of post-mortem examinations in medical student socialisation

Goodwin, Dawn Samantha and Machin, Laura Louise and Taylor, Adam Michael (2016) The social life of the dead : the role of post-mortem examinations in medical student socialisation. Social Science and Medicine, 161. pp. 100-108. ISSN 0277-9536

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Dissection has held a privileged position in medical education although the professional values it inculcates have been subject to intense debate. Claims vary from it generating a dehumanising level of emotional detachment, to promotion of rational and dispassionate decision-making, even to being a positive vehicle for ethical education. Social scientists have positioned dissection as a critical experience in the emotional socialisation of medical students. However, curricular revision has provoked debate about the style and quantity of anatomy teaching thus threatening this ‘rite of passage’ of medical students. Consequently, some UK medical schools do not employ dissection at all. In its place, observation of post-mortem examinations - a long established, if underutilised, practice – has re-emerged in an attempt to recoup aspects of anatomical knowledge that are arguably lost when dissection is omitted. Bodies for post-mortem examinations and bodies for dissection, however, have striking differences, meaning that post-mortem examinations and dissection cannot be considered comparable opportunities to learn anatomy. In this article, we explore the distinctions between dissection and post-mortem examinations. In particular, we focus on the absence of a discourse of consent, concerns about bodily integrity, how the body’s shifting ontology, between object and person, disrupts students’ attempts to distance themselves, and how the observation of post-mortem examinations features in the emotional socialisation of medical students.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Social Science and Medicine
Additional Information:
This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Social Science and Medicine. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Social Science and Medicine, 161, 2016 DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.05.038
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? united kingdommedical studentspost-mortem examinationsdissectionemotional socialisationconsentbodily integrityobject-person ontologieshealth(social science) ??
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Deposited On:
27 May 2016 10:04
Last Modified:
18 Dec 2023 01:38