Henry Gustav Molaison (1926-2008) was perhaps the best-known and most studied patient in the history of neuroscience. Henry became the subject of a scientific article which would become one of the most cited articles in the history of medical literature.
Six years ago, while researching the life of an American psychiatrist who studied the top Nazi leaders during their imprisonment and trial in Nuremberg, I came across a small box among the physician’s possessions. The box held a set of glass photographic transparencies, with each slide showing a cross-section of a brain. Labels on the slides identified the brain’s former owner as Robert Ley.
The history of medical students using human cadavers for dissection is a long and choppy one (no pun intended). Before Christianity, mutilation and use of human corpses was widespread. It is common knowledge that ancient Egyptians mummified their dead, dissecting and preserving specific organs. After Christianity became a widespread influence, however, the practice of dissecting human cadavers to study was considered taboo.
Humans have been cutting open cadavers and dissecting corpses almost since the beginning of recorded human history. Ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to mummify their dead, including cutting open bodies, dissecting out organs, and preserving remains. Following closely in their footsteps, ancient Greeks also pursued human dissection, in much more of a scientific vein. Rather than an immoral view of desecrating the human body, Greeks thought of human dissection as an extension of the empirical nature of science.