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Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 12: July 1824 to June 1828

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Editor’s NoteEditor’s Note3252To Robert Peel1 April 1826 (Aet 78)


Forgive the liberty of this address: it is one of the many which the manifestations for which you are reaping so well earned a reward can scarcely fail to have drawn upon you.2 Permitt me to solicit your attention to the distressed state of medical science: to the distressed

pg 206state of the science, and thence to the danger of all, in whose instance life or health depends upon it. Beings who are endowed with feeling are doomed to disease and death, out of tenderness for the feelings of those which have none.

Think not, Sir, that I am calling upon you to act in contempt of Public Opinion and its tribunal. In its wildest and most pernicious errors contempt for that authority, on the ascendancy of which depends every thing good in government, can never be consistent with any regard for the greatest happiness of the greatest number— the only defensible end of government.

By the following arrangements, in which there is nothing new except perhaps a modification or two of detail the public evil would receive an effectual cure and if I do not overflatter myself, without any wound to individual feelings: certainly without any such evil in that shape, as could bear any comparison with the good.

Imperfect as it is, the following hasty sketch may serve for the outline.

  1. 1. By every person, by or for whom application is made for his or her admittance into an Hospital in the character of a patient, consent shall thereby be understood to be given that in the event of his dying under its care, his body shall be examined and studied for the benefit of the public, by means of the instruction afforded to pupils in medical art and science.

  2. 2. After such examination finished, the remains to be consigned to burial in the Parish in which the Hospital is situated according to the ritual of the Established Church: except where by relatives of the deceased a different mode of disposal is desired and applied for.

  3. 3. To obviate all apprehension that the applications will be treated with neglect, a clause, obliging the proper functionary of the Hospital to keep a Register Book, wherein shall be registered every such application, with the alledged names, abodes and occupations of the applicants, and the day when made: and of his own accord, to give the applicants a certificate, containing a literal Copy of the corresponding article in the Register.

  4. 4. Some public print perhaps there may be in which notification should be given of every such death, with an intimation that after another day thereupon mentioned, no such application will be received.

  5. 5. In another clause, might be added, recommendation or even injunction, not to perform such examination on any patient in relation to whom any such application had been made, at a time when there was any other in whose instance no such application had been made.

  6. 6. It would be still better, and it is hoped would obviate all pg 207objection, if the permission could be limited altogether to the case where no such application shall have been made. But as to the probability that the number would, under that limitation, be sufficient, the Members of the Faculty would of course be to be consulted.

Now as to the feelings of relatives: even at present the most sensitive sentimentalists do not object to the opening of the body of their relative for the purpose of investigating the cause of the disease. Hence, might be taken a distinction, and an examination completely public and pervading the whole body, might be limited to the case of those in whose instance no such application shall have been made.

Now as to the use and need of such a supply. In Paris, there is a Government Hospital of old foundation—that of Saint Louis,3 which I visited last autumn, in which the freest use is made for this purpose of the bodies of all deceased patients. There are commonly about 10 or 12 young English Physicians who pass years at this Hospital for the purpose of acquiring, by this means, that proficiency in the art-and-science which, for want of the like opportunity, they had found unattainable in their own country. I had the pleasure of conversing on this subject with several very intelligent men among them, who concurred in assuring me, that by this means anatomical science had, in that place, made advances considerably beyond what it has made in England; and that at Paris the faculty were by that means enabled to rescue from death and disease, many who could not have received the like relief in England.

Nor was this, I believe, the only Hospital to which English Physicians are in use to resort for this purpose.4 But as to that matter, my recollection will not serve me with certainty. I shd hope, however, that what is above will be found sufficient.

Of the importance of this matter to science, health and life, such is my own conception that by my Will, made several years ago, I directed that my body should be dissected in the completest as well as the most public manner;5 that so my last moments have for their comfort the assurance that how little service soever it may have pg 208been in my power to render to mankind during my life time, I shall at least be not altogether useless after my death.

In case of a Bill framed for this purpose, various provisions of detail would of course be necessary, for the purpose of which the faculty would of course have to be consulted. But in the present stage of the business it would be useless, Sir, for me to attempt to trouble you with them, nor could I under the uncertainty afford time for thinking of them.6

  •                              I am, Sir,
  •                               with all respect
  •                                  Yours &c
  •                                             Jeremy Bentham

Right Hon. Robert Peel.


P.S. I shall with pleasure, do whatever is most agreable to you in relation to this business, except the giving it up. 1. If the design meets your approbation, the simplest course is for you to take it up as of yourself without my appearing in it. 2. But if in that case you had rather it should appear called for ab extrà, and that the call should appear in some Newspaper, so it shall be, and, with any alteration you may suggest, every thing but this Post script sent accordingly. 3. If I do not receive any commands from you within a week from the Date of this letter, I shall conclude that you are not disposed to take up the matter yourself, and I shall in that case also send the letter to some Newspaper, for the chance of seeing it taken up by some one else.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
3252. 1 UC, xi. 180–3. Part autograph draft with corrections in the hand of Colls, part in the hand of Colls with autograph corrections, dated 27, 29 and 30 March 1826. Fo. 180 is headed by Bentham 'J.B to Secy Peel for subjects for dissection', and endorsed by Bentham '☞ Sent to his House 1 April 1826. after dinner Bowring &c having seen it.'
Editor’s Note
2 Bentham's allusion is to Peel's programme of law reform, which had already led to the abolition of the death penalty for numerous petty offences (4 Geo. IV, cc. 46, 48) and the consolidation of the laws relative to juries (6 Geo. IV, c. 50). On 9 March 1826 Peel had announced a plan to consolidate the criminal law, and presented to the House of Commons a Bill to improve the administration of justice: see Parliamentary Debates (1826) xiv. 1214–44. For Bentham's previous notice of Peel's programme of law reform see Letter 3208 n. 15.
Editor’s Note
3 The hôpital St. Louis was founded in 1607 at the command of Henry IV (1553–1610), King of France from 1589. Situated in the north of Paris just outside the medieval city wall, it had been intended principally for plague victims.
Editor’s Note
4 In his evidence to the Select Committee on Anatomy on 28 April 1828, Sir Astley Paston Cooper (1768–1841), appointed Surgeon in 1800, and Consulting Surgeon in 1827, to Guy's Hospital, President of the College of Surgeons 1827 and 1836, and Sergeant-Surgeon to the Crown 1828–41, estimated that at the time there were 150 Englishmen studying surgery in Paris: see Commons Sessional Papers (1828) vii. 1–150, at 19.
Editor’s Note
5 See the codicil to Bentham's most recent will, dated 29 March 1824, reproduced as Letter 3085, Correspondence, xi.
Editor’s Note
6 Bentham did eventually draft a 'Body-providing Bill' on 6 November 1826: see UC, xi. 220–4.
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