During government’s need to intervene by introducing reform.

During eighteenth century Britain, a rise in the medical
profession’s curiosity in anatomy increased the need for corpses which led to
the widespread to bodysnatching or grave robbing. During the nineteenth
century, the government’s attempt to solve this problem ended up legalizing the
selling and buying of corpses and in effect criminalizing being poor. In Death,
Dissection and the Destitute, Ruth Richardson explores the reasoning behind the
ratification of Britain’s Anatomy Act of 1832 and tackles its political,
economic, and social impact. While studying Britain’s history of medicine,
science, and culture, Richardson examines the relationship between the Anatomy
Act and the New Poor Law of 1834, and the public’s response to the Anatomy Act.
Though there was a clear public uproar, the Anatomy Act had an impact on
society by causing “the fear of dissection” and the “intended injury to the
poor” (Richardson, 150). Prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832, the Murder Act of
1752 only allowed the corpses of murderous criminals for the use of dissection.
From the 1800s, the lower rate of deaths by execution and deaths due to medical
inventions, as well as the advancement of science and medicine, caused the need
of corpses to increase. The establishment and work of the Anatomical Society
led to the government’s need to intervene by introducing reform. By the final
attempt of the committee, Parliament accepted that the Anatomy Act was needed
to put an end to grave robbing, the public’s outcry to the end of the criminal
trade of corpses, and help supply the medical profession with human corpses to
study anatomy in detail and advance the industry. With the consideration of Act
for Regulating Schools of Anatomy 1832, the Anatomy act of 1832 also allowed
the corpses of workhouse laborers to be used for dissection unless claimed by
“surviving relative or friends able to find the money to pay for the funeral”
(Richardson, 125). Those who were in the workhouse were a target because they
were sick, old, or physically or mentally unable. The Old Poor Law allowed the
poor to be fed and sheltered, particularly by their parishes. After the anatomy
crisis, the government took the issue even further by introducing the New Poor
Law of 1834 which limited the financial aid for poor people. Though it also
restricted those who could legally dissect, the government’s goal seemed to be
to use more of the corpses of paupers first as they were the more
poverty-stricken and “had no property, and hence no one outside the institute
to prove their wills” (Richardson, 207). 
Therefore, the British government could control the paupers while they
were alive in the Poor Law and also while they were dead in the Anatomy Act
which made the British people nervous about their health and where they would
end up. While Parliament argued that the two would save money for the economy
and be more cost effective for the poor, Richardson argued that the rich and
elites were only ones who benefitted, particularly as many ignored regulations
to get what they needed until the Act was passed, while the poor were sentenced
to dissection. While the New Poor Law might have produced more workhouses for
the poor, the workhouses were still providing poor care as Richardson points
out that “the Anatomy Act seems to have been assimilated in radical political
consciousness virtually as an appendage of the New Poor Law” (Richardson, 270).
While the Anatomy Act and the New Poor Law solved the corpse issue by
benefiting the elite and wealthy, the poor suffered emotionally not knowing
where to turn to try to save themselves after death. Overall, the public
reacted with fear and rejected the reform particularly as it caused political,
economic, and social impact and they were also worried about the traditional
beliefs of life after death and religious concerns. Though the Anatomy Act and
New Poor Law lacked respect for the grieving relatives, the culture at this
time felt there should be respect for the dead as there was “a strong tie
between body and personality/soul for an undefined period of time after death”
(Richardson, 7). Some areas like Greenwich and Bristol also responded with
protests and riots, but they were unsuccessful with their attempts. These acts
seemed to show the people of Britain that its government felt that they were
worth more dead and seen as an inconvenience alive. After analyzing the
evidence, although it caused a public upset, it is clear that Anatomy Act of
1832 had a huge impact on society as the people of Britain feared for their
lives as well as their body after death and the poor in particular. Richardson
even sates that “the bill exposes to the odious sale none but the bodies of the
poor” because the rich did not live in poor homes or go to poor hospitals and
therefore rich corpses were never sold (Richardson, 193). While the care
provided in the workhouse was poor, paupers were cut off from financial help by
the government which decreased the lifespan of those in poverty and increased
the amount of corpses for dissecting. The attempted solution led to the one
true possession of human beings to belong to the government, and while the
elite’s sentiments of the poor were ironic the Anatomy Act meant that the
corps’ “appropriation is not only depredation, but a gross abuse of human
rights” (Richardson, 426).