That lives matter and that humans share equal rights is an ongoing issue throughout the world where through poverty, ethnicity, geographical location, economics and social deprivation as well as your job or profession might mean that you are effectively dispensable. What the history of anatomy teaches us, quite starkly, is how the body – in this case dead – is effectively a piece of meat, devoid of humanity and at death devoid of any rights.
Powerlessness over your own body and its value is manifest both in life and in death. For those dying in the workhouses of London in the 19th century, if no relatives came to claim you immediately at death, your body was sent directly to the anatomy labs in Kinnerton Street, close to St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner. Ruth Richardson’s book Death, Dissection and the Destitute explores in detail the relationship between social class, poverty and the anatomists slab before and after the anatomy act, a theme she returns to also in her The Making of Mr. Gray’s Anatomy.
That this disposability of a human being who is destitute or criminal is chillingly present in the Visible Human Project (https://www.nlm.nih.gov/research/visible/visible_human.html) where the donated cadaver was a criminal on death row.
Left: Jana Sterbak (1987) Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic
Right: Lady Gaga Video Music Awards (2010)