Skeletons in the closet: time to give human bones acquired by health practitioners for educational purposes the respect they deserve

Jonathan Coman, Simon S Craig and Anne‐Maree Kelly
Med J Aust 2022; 216 (8): . || doi: 10.5694/mja2.51477
Published online: 2 May 2022

Health authorities need to develop a nationally consistent, sensible, ethical and jurisdictionally feasible process for disposal of educational human bone sets

The study of anatomy is integral to the study of medicine. It lies at an interface between the need for body parts for research and education and the ethical responsibility to show respect for the dead.1 In the 20th century, human skeletons were acquired on a mass scale as medical students were encouraged to purchase sets of human bones. Attempts to institute a legal market were overtaken by traders using illicit international sources, particularly India, as demand outstripped supply.2 The ethical, legal and practical issues were largely ignored.3

  • 1 Monash University, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2 Monash Health, Melbourne, VIC
  • 3 Joseph Epstein Centre for Emergency Medicine Research, Western Health, Melbourne, VIC
  • 4 Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD



We thank Julian Savulescu for his insights regarding the ethics issues raised.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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