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Doctors warned not to sell or use skeletons as Halloween props

MDU reminds doctors that strict rules on disposing of human remains apply to skeletons

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 29 October 2018

Doctors with old unwanted human skeletons in their closets have been warned by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) that there are strict rules on disposing of human remains which apply to skeletons.

While selling real human skeletons on auction sites or using them as Halloween props might be tempting, the MDU has reminded doctors that bones must be disposed of sensitively.

Dr Ellie Mein, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: “Medical students now use plastic replicas of skeletons in their studies, but up until thirty or forty years ago it was common for those studying medicine to use a real human skeleton. At the MDU we sometimes hear from doctors and their relatives who literally find a skeleton in the closet and wonder how to dispose of it sensitively.

“There are strict rules about the disposal of human remains meaning skeletons can’t just be sold on like any other unwanted item. In fact, auctions sites such as eBay say they don’t allow the sale of human body parts, skulls or bones regardless of whether they are for medical use or not.”

The Human Tissue Act 2004 regulates the removal, storage and use of human tissue and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) recommends that the disposal of bones is done sensitively. This can include by incineration, separate from other clinical waste or burial.

“Another option is to donate a skeleton to a medical school for teaching purposes or give the skeleton to a medical student. However, any medical school using body parts to train healthcare professionals needs the appropriate HTA license,” Mein said.

“Any doctor considering disposing of a human skeleton should bear in mind that a key principle on which the Human Tissue Act is based is that all bodies, body parts or tissue should be treated with respect and dignity.”

The MDU has published advice on disposal of skeletons.

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