2 Apr 2012

A skeleton in my closet

I am sure there were many logical reasons why I chose to study Human Anatomy in second year Uni, but I can't remember them now. I do know, though, that the idea of owning my very own skeleton was very thrilling indeed. I can still remember driving my little Holden Gemini car right over to the other side of Melbourne, all the way to Mentone, to purchase my very own disarticulated (not wired together) set. I remember how proud I was packing them in the boot, and how, on the way home, I commented to my friend that being pulled over by the police might prove very interesting indeed.

Even in those antiquated days of the late 70s, questions were being asked about the ethics of using human remains for study, but the genuine article was vastly preferred over the plastic alternative because the muscle origins and insertions showed up so much more clearly on the real bones. Students used to sell the sets student-to-student because they were such an expensive item for poor students to purchase. I don't know how I ended up keeping mine.

Over the course of the next year I came to know my skeleton very well. I discovered that he was a man, and would have been much the same height as I am. He had pretty good dental hygiene and retained most of his teeth (although he has subsequently lost a few). He had never fractured a bone, and had no arthritis or other anatomical abnormalities. I knew he came from India because of the high quality of his preparation. Indian bones were highly regarded because they were scrubbed to such a a pristine white patina and were fitted with high-quality connecting hardware. The bones were more gracile than European bones, more slender and lightly built. I named him "Bapu", the Hindi word for father.

In 1985 the Indian government outlawed the export of human remains, and the global supply of skeletons collapsed. Plastic models took their place.

My role as custodian of Bapu's human remains poses a significant ethical problem. What should I do with them? The ethicists debate, and in the mean time I store him, along with some bones belonging to Mr PD, as a skeleton in my closet. (Doesn't everyone have one of those?)

Last week in our study of Human Anatomy using Jeannie Fulbright's book, Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology, I introduced Jemimah to Bapu for the first time.

We tried to be respectful, but I must admit to a little bit of a joke. We examined his bones, his skull, his ribs. We rebuilt him on the floor and observed how his joints fitted together. We looked at the amazing bones in his hands and feet. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, indeed.

Later we discussed the ethics involved in storing Bapu's skeleton. We talked about the illegal trafficking in bones that still happens today, 25 years after the ban on exporting bones from India was enacted. We discussed the financial incentives. Bapu cost me $250.00. Today he is worth more than ten times that amount. We discussed the concept of supply and demand.

What I didn't discuss with my 10 year old was the idea of grave robbers. I did not discuss the possibility that Bapu might have been killed for his bones, or that they might have been taken without the consent of his loved ones. I didn't talk about the fact that he might well have been a husband and a father, that somewhere somebody as well as me might have called him "Bapu" - father - and meant it. I didn't talk about it, but I did think about it.

And then I carefully packed Bapu away in his box, and put him on his shelf. Where he will remain until I know what do do with him. My skeleton in the closet.



  1. Wow! Words fail me on this one. What a great teaching tool, but yes the ethics of this one are tangled.

  2. Um...Ick to the skeleton ~ & you have qualms about THG? Oh.My.

    You know, of course, that the Dreamtime Elders have been reclaiming all their ancestors from the various museums around the world & returning them to their people. Native Americans also have banned archaeologists from disinterring the bones of their people regardless of what information they might reveal. I respect their opinions but honestly: dead is dead & what use is that body to anyone? They may as well be used to help the living but then I don't want a skeleton in my closet. That's just icky. Very. lol

  3. Hey, I loved The Hunger Games trilogy. I'm just not going to read them to Jemimah!

  4. lol But Jemimah is little still. Star & I will read them together but she's a good deal older. The skeleton is still icky.

  5. I don't think it is icky............but yes, I would want to treat it with respect.

    My friend was in medical school and she showed me her bones (and also later her cadaver, lol). She said another friend of ours got REALLY freaked by the bones. So I guess, like Ganeida, some people are very uncomfortable with human bones.

  6. OH, and the Hunger Games DID freak me out. I really did NOT like it.

  7. Yes, I chose not to mention dissection...

  8. A skeleton in the closet! Dem dry bones could tell a story or two I suspect.
    Ethics can be hard in these areas. How can we learn about the body unless one is available to dissect but I am squeemish and I have never really had a view on it, other than that biblically dead bodies were treated with respect. I think Christian apologists could research and write more on the ethics of various medical procedures. Having had to consider this in light of organ transplants I found actually very little written thoughts on it and learned Christians seemed reluctant to voice too much opinion.

  9. LOVE the hand on the shoulder photo!


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