The body snatchers' legacy to medicine

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One might struggle to see the ethical side of bodysnatching, that grisly activity epitomised by Burke and Hare. But, according to a senior curator at the Royal College of Surgeons, some of the greatest discoveries in medical history might not have been possible without it.

Few crimes can make the flesh crawl like body snatching, but it was prevalent in the 18th Century.

The image of freshly raided graves scandalised the public, but few of the perpetrators and procurers were caught and, when they were, the punishments were trivial.

Simon Chaplin, senior curator of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, has new insights into this grisly conundrum.

In a recent speech, he pointed out that some of the great discoveries of medical history took place in the 18th Century - the small pox vaccine, advances in obstetrics, dental surgery and the treatment and detection of venereal disease.

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