EVERYONE in Edinburgh knows the story of Burke and Hare. We have all enjoyed being horrified by the macabre stories of people being murdered to have their bodies retailed to the surgeonsâ theatres for anatomical lessons.
At the core of a horrible narrative is a simple lesson in micro economics. Burke and Hare would have had no business to transact if people, or their families, were free to donate (or sell) cadavers. The murderers were paid Â£7 10s for their first corpse. Robert Knox, the surgeon who bought them, was not prosecuted. Burke was hanged.
This is not a historical curiosity. We are still muddling the now huge market in human tissues from the dead and living. It is probable most readers of this article will have donated or received blood. Many will have a relative who has exchanged a cornea. Fewer will have had a liver transplant and fewer still a heart from a stranger.
The government sees there is a huge shortage of human organs for the medics to work their miracles. They are considering nationalising our bodies; the state will assume the right to take whatever organs may be deemed of second-hand value. I donât doubt the coherence of this - supplying hospitals with useful human tissues rather than let them be buried or incinerated to no value.