Doctors who find a skeleton in the closet warned by MDU about rules on disposal

29 October 2018

Doctors with unwanted human skeletons in their closets are being warned by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) about the strict rules on disposing of human remains.

The MDU is warning doctors against selling real human skeletons on auction sites or using them as Halloween props, as 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.

'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.'

Read the MDU's full advice on the disposal of skeletons.

This guidance was correct at publication 29/10/2018. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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