The UK Human Tissue act of 2004 and the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 are acts that “regulate the removal, storage, use and disposal of human bodies, organs and tissue.”

The act, which in England replaced the Human Tissue Act of 1832, was brought in to force to prevent scandals such as that at Alder Hay, where children’s organs were being retained without permission.  The act requires premises where anatomical dissection is taking place, to be licensed and places responsibility for the correct procedures being followed with a DI or designated individual.

The act also ensures that nothing happens without the permission of the person donating their body, and requires that donors fill out forms prior to their death, giving permission for their form to be used when they pass on.  At the time of death, the donor’s remains are transferred as soon as possible to the hospital or medical school they have nominated, where they are preserved by embalming or freezing.


What Happens After Death

Receiving institutes will have a bequeathals office, someone dealing directly with donors, who will also be able to liaise with the family and make arrangements for transport to the facility at the time of death.  In some cases the donor cannot be accepted for a variety of reasons and these are generally the donors that we are able to welcome as source material for our classes.  In this way we are able to fulfil the last wishes of those who might otherwise not be able to donate their body.

In every case the utmost care and respect is paid to the donor while they are in the care of the institute and especially where our courses are concerned.  We consider ourselves guardians of the deceased form, until such time as they can be cremated.  All tissues are kept together and integral and at the end of our classes a small thanksgiving ceremony is held.  All attendees are reminded of the incredible gift that is being offered and the amazing opportunity that these dissection classes represent.

The HTA and who gets to dissect.

The Human Tissue Act is regulated by the Human Tissue Authority, whose job is to ensure that the key elements of the act are being implemented.  Regular inspections of licensed premises are conducted and systems examined and reviewed.  What the HTA does not do nor does it want to, is decide who gets to dissect.

It’s often thought that only medical trainees, doctors and surgeons get to dissect human tissue and in most instances this is the case.  However there is nothing in the act that suggests that only medical professionals should have access to cadaveric material.  The more enlightened in the academic medical community accept that these kinds of classes offer an opportunity for wider engagement with the anatomically aware, as well as allowing facilities and staff to be fully engaged at all times.

Gross anatomy is becoming increasingly studied in the field of complementary health care in contrast with the seemingly decreasing interest from undergraduate medical training.   Externally organised anatomy classes offer those whose daily work and practice involves treating people in pain.  That they are not ‘medical’ doesn’t exclude them from having an interest or wish to undertake anatomical study in order to better help their patients, nor does any aspect of Human Tissue Act.

HTA Guidance

In October 2016 the HTA issued specific guidelines in order to assist institutions with running classes that might previously be outside their direct experience.  The guidance states:

Anatomy establishments, such as medical schools and surgical skills centres, are often keen to promote their facilities and engage more widely in education or training. People donate their bodies in the hope that they can be used for the good of society, benefitting other people. In addition to the typically expected activities taking  place in these centres, this concept of benefitting other people could include activities which seek to: raise awareness of health and wellbeing for health education purposes; improve anatomical or wider biological knowledge, or; improve patient or client safety.

We will always ensure that those attending our classes abide by a strict code of conduct that is legally enforceable and aim to use material that would otherwise not be used.  We operate a code of ethics which is second to none and hold all our host institutions in the highest regard.

For more information on body donation and the Human Tissue Act, please visit;

Please consider donating your body after your death in order to further the wider understanding of the human form. You can find a list of institutions that will accept donors at the HTA website.