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their success, will fail to impart to the surgeon, that accurate knowledge and dexterity, which the law expects that he shall pos
We highly approve of the policy of the legislature thus far, for it argues a just solicitude for the public bealth. But what are we to think, if that same code, which first exacts a definite extent of proficiency in the surgeon, shall afterwards prohibit him, under severe penalties, from entering on the only probation by which that proficiency can be obtained ? Hence, in order to avoid one penalty, a surgeon must of necessity incur perhaps a severer; he can comply with one law solely by a habitual violation of another. It is now a rule of law, that the mere possession of a dead body, for other purposes than for burial, is a misdemeanor. To be consistent with itself, the law should sanction the existence of ignorant and incapable surgeons, and ought on no account to permit that a medical practitioner who has never dissected, should be fined for any mistake which he may, in consequence, commit. This would be an equitable, or at least an intelligible system. But we have not yet directed attention to the worst feature of the present one. Not only has the law denounced dissection as a penal offence-but it has rendered that practice an object of popular odium. The act of the twenty-fifth of George II., has added to the usual punishment inflicted on the perpetrator of a murder, the further penalty of dissection, thus establishing in the minds of the multitude the impression, that surrendering the body to the surgeon's knife, is that extreme expedient for aggravating the fate of the criminal, which the shedding of blood alone deserves ! *
In a country where the law is so strongly opposed to dissection, how can we expect that the general sentiment will be for it? Those writers of the time who affect to lead, but really follow public opinion, show a degree of hostility to this necessary practice, at which we are convinced their better judgment must revolt. Day after day we hear the mawkish and sickening cant," sacred precints of the grave," “solemnity of the tomb," "inviolable sanctity of the sepulchre," and the like. "How unfeeling !” they exclaim, "to break upon the slumbers of the dead, and rudely tear from its shrine some hallowed form, on which parental affection during life had expended its fondest caresses ! Unfeeling it may be to plunder the grave, to rudely incise the inanimate flesh, to disembowel and divide the decaying corpse. But after all, may we not
* We are bound to state, that the merit of originality does not lie with the authors of this mischievous clause, for its object had been suggested nearly three centuries before, by no less respectable an authority than the “ Barbers and Surgeons of Edinburgh," who, in their petition for the privilege of incorporation, made the following remarkable requisition :
" And that we may have ance in the year, a condemned man, after he be dead, to make anatomia of, quhair throw wee may have experience, ilk ane, to instruck others, and we shall do suffeerage for the saule.”
calmly enquire if it is not better to cut up the dead, than cut up the living? This is certain, that a surgeon inust either mangle the one or the other ; the public may make up their minds on that matter. No man can safely use his knife on the animate body, until he has employed it over and over again on that which is destitute of vitality; and if he be deprived of the opportunity of practising when no mischief can be done, most assuredly will he be compelled to practise where a great deal must ensue. It is no exaggeration to affirm, that for every body subjected to the surgeon's knife, one hundred living ones are saved from premature death, or from sufferings that would render death a welcome messenger. The great delusion of the multitude, which those who ought to have a more legitimate ambition, endeavour to sustain, is, that the doctors are addicted to dissection out of an impulse of self-gratification, and that the rest of the world are mere uninterested spectators, who have a right to be shocked at their indifference and rudeness. We possibiy may have hereafter more ample space and time for the task, wheu we hope to be able to show, how transcendantly above all that mere philanthropy and charity bave bestowed, has anatomy proved an instrument of good to mankind. To a brief illustration or two in point, we are under the necessity of confining ourselves at present.
During the long period, which indeed was only very recently terminated, when little or nothing was known of the structure of the human body, the process of curing generally adopted in serious cases, really proved to be only a sort of handmaid to disease. Not only did it contribute materially to increase the rate of mortality, but it tended, in a manner that is really frightful to contemplate, to aggravate the sufferings of the patient to whom it was applied. Our blood runs cold as we read the account of the operations, or rather the tortures inflicted upon human beings, before the glorious era, when Harvey, by unremitting dissections for five and twenty years, discovered the circulation. Without the knowledge of this great phenomenon, the best surgeons of ancient times generally treated hemorrhage as an incurable complaint; and in all the battles which we read of in ancient history, not one soldier, in whose body an artery was wounded, escaped immediate death. The impossibility of arresting bleeding, precluded the old surgeons from having recourse to amputation (a measure which always involves the division of several blood-vessels) in thousands of cases, where a speedy and distressing death would have been prevented, or where protracted and agonizing sufferings would have been instantly assuaged. Even in those instances where amputation was performed, the mode of stopping the hemorrhage was such as to bring on mortification of the limb, which of course proved as afflicting, and as fatal to the patient, as it was possible for the original disease to do. On numerous occasions, they burned up the portion of the limb that remained after amputation, by what is called the actual cautery, that is to say, by the application of red-hot irons; and sometimes the knives employed in the operation were likewise red-bot. But even this dreadful expedient was commonly unsuccessful; for the eschar formed on the bleeding vessels, and acting as an obstacle to the issue of blood, soon fell away, when the patient bled to death. Another mode of amputation used by our ancestors, was founded on the notion, that by expediting the operation, the period during which the blood flowed away would be materially limited. They contrived a wooden machine, with a large cutting instrument inserted into it, which was worked exactly on the principle of the French guillotine, and with one stroke severed the limb from the body. This engine was, however, humane, when compared with an additional plan of amputation very much employed, namely, placing the sharp edge of an axe on the limb, and effecting its dismemberment by a vehement blow of a mallet !
Such were the barbarous practices that characterized the days, and they are not very remote, when human dissections were successfully prohibited. To what circumstances is it owing, that the same dreadful system of "healing" is not still pursued, but to that intrepid resistance to bad laws, and that defiance of vulgar prejudice, which enabled heroic men to descend to the charnel house, and thence to extort,as from the reluctant oracles of nature, the knowledge which from no other source they could expect to obtain? That single result of dissection, which, in association with the name of Harvey, has conferred on his memory an imperishable fame, ought to sanctify the practice, as long as there is a human nerve to vibrate, or an artery to throb, under the influence of pain. From this grand discovery, means of alleviating suffering, and prolonging life, have been produced in such abundance, as to entitle it most justly to the credit of being the greatest act of humanity that ever was performed by one man to his fellow creatures. Scarcely had Harvey promulgated his doctrine, when a French surgeon, turning the principles on which it was founded to practical account, contrived a field tourniquet, and was enabled by its use, at the siege of Besançon, to save the life of many a brave countryman, who would otherwise have undoubtedly perished. It is scarcely necessary for us to add, that, at the present day, amputation is one of the most familiar, easy, and safe expedients, to which a surgeon can resort; that not only, by the progress of anatomy, is the operation less frequently performed, but, when necessary, it is in alınost every instance completely successful.
Amongst those triumphs which the study of anatomy alone can be said to have produced, and at which humanity must always rejoice, we may mention the cure of aneurism. This disease commences by the weakening of the coats of an artery in a particular part of its course. These coats, not being able to resist the pressure of the flowing blood, yield to it, become dilated, form tumours, and at length burst, affording an opening for a flow of blood, which proves inevitably fatal. The old surgeons, when they saw this character of tumour, had no better mode of cure to propose than amputation of the limb-a measure which, as we have seen, in their hands, was only another term for the surgical execution of the unfortunate patient. In process of time, however, the surgeons were induced to cut down to the tumour, and exposing the artery, to place a ligature upon it, with a view of stopping the current of the blood altogether. But the operation was seldom performed, and it almost always failed when permitted to be done.
Such was the degree of ignorance of the human body which existed at the period we speak of, that before a ligature was placed about a main artery, the patient was prevailed on to receive the rites of the church, as though he could expect no other result than death from the operation. In this state did the mode of curing aneurisms, by no means a rare complaint, remain, until the era of John Hunter; and it is solely to the anatomical knowledge, which the vast industry of that great man enabled him to collect, that thousands upon thousands afflicted with aneurism have been preserved to their families, in the course of the last half century. Hunter was the first man who effectually stopped the supply of blood to the aneurismal tumour, and cured his patient. A man came to him with an aneurism of the artery in the ham. Said Hunter to the surgeons around him, “ I shall tie this artery, not at the ham, where its coats are diseased, but I shall tie it at the top of the thigh, where it is sound ; and by thus securing the trunk, I shall with the greatest certainty arrest the flow of blood to the aneurism.” It was naturally objected to this proposal, that the supply of blood by this measure would be altogether withheld from the limb, and that it would consequently fall into a state of mortification. “True,” rejoined Hunter, " I shall interrupt the main supply; but I know that many branches from this artery are given off above the point of the intended ligature; I know that these branches communicate in another direction with the limb, and I am sufficiently acquainted with the processes of nature to be satisfied, that when the direct channels of conveyance are destroyed, the indirect ones will be adequately enlarged for the performance of the necessary functions.” And he proceeded to the operation, which was completely successful, as have been the great majority of those which, after his example, have been, and are now, almost weekly repeated in our hospitals. What a delightful reflection must it be for an Englishman, that the immediate means by which all these scientific miracles have been worked for the happiness of society-for the restoration of honest and worthy individuals from a state of imminent peril to one of health and strength—that these means, we repeat, should have been reached only by a flagrant violation of the law, and at the hazard of perpetuating the existence of a trade, which, in a more knowing age, has become the nursery of crimes that we shudder to think of?
The conclusion which we desire to point out to the attention of
intelligent men, as arising from the short statements now advanced, and which, be it remembered, very faintly represent the striking benefits of anatomy, is this, that the human body is still a mine of treasures, which is far from being completely explored ; and that with a view to further important discoveries, which must be conducive to the welfare of mankind, every facility should be afforded for its examination, to those who are led by duty, or taste, or both, to the study. This second great end of anatomy, it will be seen, is entirely independent of that which, as the primary one, we have already urged, namely, the acquisition on the part of the surgeon, of that familiarity with the relations and structure of the body, which will secure to the living who employ him, the greatest number of probabilities that their confidence in him is not misplaced. To the objection which is commonly made by the ignorant and unthinking, that anatomy is a simple study; that it may be adequately learned from books, and that a single dead body, properly investigated, ought to suffice for the education of the best surgeon ; to such an objection we say, we oppose the whole history of the progress of anatomy. We would ask those complaisant tribunes of the mob, if they have ever heard how many hundreds of years, how many hundreds of life-long, indefatigable dissectors it has taken to discover all that we at present know of the structure, the differences of parts, and relations of the human body? Why, it is only within our own time, that anatomy has been able to point out a few traces of the path, by which alone we may expect to gain a correct view of the functions of the nerves. So difficult is it, uuder the most favourable circumstances, to acquire an universal acquaintance with the body, that there are few even of the most eminent surgeons, who have not been betrayed into one error or another, in consequence of their anatomical ignorance. We could fill a volume with cases in proof of our assertion. Cowper, one of the great fathers of English anatomy, committed, in the fulness of his fame, a fatal blunder, by mistaking the source of an arterial vessel in the face. Surgeons of equal attainment have, before now, in cutting out tumours from the neck, completely destroyed the power of voice, or the sense of hearing, by including in the operation some trifling filament of nerve, with the existence of which they were totally unacquainted. This ignorance is to be traced to the necessity under which early anatomists were placed, of employing their time in examinations, which, now that the results are known, become unnecessary. They had not leisure, therefore, for that minute dissection, which was necessary to enable them to guard against such fatal errors as we have described. To some extent, the very same principle exists 10 this hour. If such then be the imperfections, to which men of unbounded zeal, of the greatest industry, genius, and judgment, and enjoying unlimited opportunities of study, are liable, what ought to be the apprehensions of the public, when they contem