With the arrival of the ‘Bodies’ exhibition at the Ambassador in Dublin, Joe Duffy has been taking calls on Liveline this week around the ethics of having such bodies on display.
The timing of the exhibition also relates to Sunday night’s The History Show with Myles Dungan, on RTÉ Radio 1.
Myles spoke to Brian Hand, from the National College of Art and Design who has been looking into the idea of the Irish Giant. And during their conversation, one such giant, Cornelius Magrath, was mentioned.
“Poor old Cornelius was a curiosity; there was no sense of ethical teaching around the whys wherefores of his grave-snatching.”
Cornelius has been preserved since the 1700s and is on display in Trinity College, Dublin, his body having been snatched by medical students who had ‘befriended’ Mr. Magrath.
As medicine has developed, along with the ethics of medical practice, many think that displaying the bodies of the dead, no matter how old, is inappropriate and anachronistic, particularly if there is no proof that they had given consent for such practice. Trinity College Professor of Medical Gerontology, Des O’Neill, is certainly of that opinion.
“I think for Cornelius Magrath, there is a strong sense that there was not consent. And certainly, anything that has been body-snatched, one has to assume that you haven’t consented to have your body on display.”
Speaking to Joe Duffy, it was clear that Professor O’Neill is against the preserving of Cornelius, saying that he deserves a burial and to be returned to family.
“I think it represents the old fashioned ‘cabinet of curiosities’ view towards medicine and actually is really out of step and out of date with the change in ethics and ethics sensibilities.”
Des O’Neill goes on to say that the 7 feet – 8 inch skeletal remains of Cornelius Magrath are on display in a glass coffin.
“I really cannot see any useful form of scholarship that can be maintained, by having effectively this man maintained as a curiosity in a cabinet… I think Trinity have called this one wrong.”
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