The Gross Anatomy Laboratory at a Cross-Roads: Ethical, Legal, and Educational Implications of Directing a Human Dissection Laboratory

Richard Gonzalez, Lane P. Fortney, Sarah Garner, Alberto E. Musto, Matthew S. Myers, Breezy Wasko

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


PURPOSE: The process of human dissection has a rich history of ethical and legal paradigm shifts in western medicine. Despite technological and pedagogical innovations, dissection is still considered by many as the gold standard for teaching and learning anatomy. The dissection experience can be emotionally, psychologically, and physically demanding. It is through this formative experience that students and junior faculty learn powerful professional and ethical lessons. These lessons are taught not only by the process of dissection, but by the culture and environment created by the faculty and staff who partake in the anatomy experience.

METHOD: A literature review was utilized to identify areas in which ethical, legal, and educational content intersects with management of the laboratory and anatomy experience.
Comparisons of state anatomical boards and medical school curricula facilitate this contrast, and case examples from the literature provide a means for highlighting areas of discussion and recommendations of best practices for facilitating an ethical and professional experience.

RESULTS: The anatomy experience can have positive and negative consequences on student and faculty professional development. Most influential are transparency and adherence to ethical and legal standards, the professional behavior of faculty and staff, and the conditions and support of the laboratory environment.

CONCLUSIONS: The culture and environment within the anatomy laboratory paves the way for the professional development of students and faculty during their formative years. Their personal experiences, their observations of professional interactions, and the treatment and handling of donors shapes how future clinicians will view and interact with their patients. In this respect, the anatomy laboratory must operate in an environment in which adherence to ethical and legal standards is of utmost priority to faculty, staff, and students. There must be a culture of accountability, protocol transparency, respect, and collaboration within a
scholarly framework.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2021
EventInternational Association of Medical Science Educators Annual Meeting, 2021. -
Duration: Jun 12 2021Jun 17 2021


ConferenceInternational Association of Medical Science Educators Annual Meeting, 2021.
Abbreviated titleIAMSE 2021

Cite this