Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Short History of Body Snatching, Part 2

Okay, I give up.  Several of you have asked what true story about a Canadian spy could possibly have led me to investigate 19th century body-snatching.  The book is Delusion (Peter Edwards, Key Porter Books, 2008), wherein transplanted Englishman Thomas Beach (aka Dr. Henri Le Caron) spies on the Fenian movement in the U.S. for Sir John A. MacDonald (as well as the British government of the day) over a thirty year period at the same time that he and his wife run an equally successful body-snatching business (thus far, he's only been temporarily jailed once in the book) - all the while raising a family in small-town America as a general practitioner.  The book is a $2 bargain basement type from Chapters, probably because of the rather tedious detail attending the storyline and because it is, after all, a history book based on a decade of scholarly research.  (Personally, I think the lame title contributed in no small measure to its lethargic sales.  It's pointless, for instance, to enter the title into the Amazon product search engine at right because it's that unheard of.)  Suffice it to say that, in the United States, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York were acknowledged centers of highly-organized body snatching activity in the 19th century, resulting in the Massachusetts Anatomy Act of 1831.  In fact one of the reasons the American Medical Association was formed was an attempt to differentiate between the "true science" of medicine and "the assumptions of ignorance and empiricism" based on an education without human dissection.  North of the border things were no better.  In Montreal in 1875, an outbreak of typhus at a convent school took its toll, and the bodies were filched by body-snatching medical students before relatives could arrive from the U.S. to claim them, causing an international scandal.  Eventually the Anatomy Act of Quebec was amended to prevent such dastardly deeds, effectively ending medical body-snatching in the province.  Similar legislation spread throughout the land shortly thereafter.  Now you know all you need (or probably want) to know about body-snatching in North America.  What next?