American Association for Anatomy recommendations for the management of legacy anatomical collections

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Anatomical Record


Collections of human remains in scientific and private institutions have a long tradition, though throughout history there has often been variable regard for the respect and dignity that these tissues demand. Recent public scandals around the use of human remains, coupled with an increasing community awareness around accountability in such instances, forces scholars to confront the ethical and moral concerns associated with these collections. This includes specific focus on the acquisition, storage, use, and disposition of these remains, which were often collected with no consent and with little knowledge, or concern, about the individual or their respective culture and practices surrounding death and postmortem treatment. As a response, the American Association for Anatomy convened a Legacy Anatomical Collections Task Force to consider these issues and to develop recommendations to assist those working with these tissues in education, research, and museum collections. This has culminated with the development of Recommendations for the Management of Legacy Anatomical Collections. The recommendations provide both an ethical foundation and practical considerations for the use, storage, and disposition of legacy collections of human tissues, and deliver guidance for establishing appropriate management and oversight, investigating provenance, and engaging with communities of care. While these Recommendations are considered a living document which will change over time as ethical principles concerning human tissue evolve, they currently represent ‘best practice’ recommendations that can guide researchers, teachers, and museum associates as they consider the future of legacy anatomical collections in their care.

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