The Anatomy Act: Contemporary challenges (II)

“I believe that anatomy should be regulated. There should be a council regulating the study and practice of Anatomy in Nigeria as there is in many other countries with power to regulate and guide the practice of Anatomy in Nigeria.”


Last week I started an examination of the provisions of the Anatomy Act, its importance to the study of medicine and medical research and why it requires urgent revision and amendment.  I will therefore continue this week from where I left off on the issue of amendment.

The Act should also be amended to provide for a body donation programme which shall provide for certain procedures and qualifications to streamline the procedure. For example,

Who can donate

How to become a registered donor

Procedure at time of death

Donations not accepted

Death certificate


Duration of anatomical study

Cremation/burial of remains

Registration of information

Another area which is unclear is; whether Superintendents of Anatomical institutions have any powers to reject a body for other purposes other than it not being accompanied by a certificate as in S.5 of the Act; for example for the reason that such a body had been subjected to a post-mortem.

Again the act does not specify how remains are to be preserved, buried, or cremated and the duration of an anatomical examination and how funerals are to be conducted and records of burials or cremations should be kept.

Failure to create a specific Regulatory Body for the Practice of Anatomy

One obvious lacuna in the Act is its inadequacy when it comes to the regulation of the practice of the Science and Art of Anatomy. The practice of anatomy has expanded astronomically through the years, and like many other specialist fields that operate with rules and ethics, it requires some regulation. Unfortunately the Act did not envisage this aspect. Other medical fields such as medicine, dentistry, medical laboratory science and nursing are regulated. I believe that anatomy should be regulated as well. There should be a council regulating the study and practice of Anatomy in Nigeria as there is in many other countries with power to regulate and guide the practice of Anatomy in Nigeria. This will reduce the burden on the minister, place more information at his disposal, and create a system for harnessing skills, knowledge and scientific discoveries in the field of Anatomical sciences and put the future development of anatomical sciences squarely on the shoulders of eminently qualified practitioners. The regulation of this all-important discipline should not just be left to the discretion of any single minister. A regulatory council if constituted should have power to establish standards of practice and education in anatomy and work hand in hand with the Minister of health. Its regulations and stipulations shall include the useful parts of the Anatomy Act and amend obsolete or ineffective sections and in general should give more power persons who practice anatomy to improve the practice of anatomy.



In other jurisdictions, similar statutes have been replaced with modern legislation to accommodate global developments and help shape the future of anatomical sciences. There is now serious interest in the regulation of organ donations. Organ donation is a trend which definitely must affect the way anatomy is taught practically with actual bodies. Organ donation happens when a person allows healthy transplantable organs and tissues to be removed, either after death or while the donor is alive for transplantation into another person or for other purposes. Common organs and tissues donated include Kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs, bone marrow, skin and corneas. Most donations occur after the donor has died. In some countries like the USA there is a registry for donors. In 1933 when the Anatomy Act came into force, certainly, science had not improved to the point of regular organ or tissue donation, it is understandable therefore, that the Act is silent in that respect; it does not deal with the harvest of organs for transplantation, and what to do when the need to retain parts of the bodies which may be of special interest for educational, medical and scientific purposes arises. This is a lacuna which should be filled because anatomy can benefit not just from the donation of whole bodies but from the donation of organs for anatomical examination. A donor may wish because of cultural considerations to donate only his organs so that the surviving relatives will have a “body” to inter especially as culturally, much attachment is had to such body as evidence of death. Anatomical sciences also need to be protected from negative implications of the trade in organs. Therefore, an amendment specifically referring to organ donation and handling will benefit the development of anatomical sciences while catering to other considerations.



The Act also provides for offences relating to contravention of the Act and punishment but provides punishment which could seemingly neither serve as a punishment nor as a deterrent in S.11 of the Act.

Sentencing and incarceration traditionally have numerous goals such as punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation. Sentencing policies are often enacted with the goal of enhancing the deterrent effect of the criminal justice system. Severity of punishment may influence behaviour if potential offenders weigh the consequences of their actions and conclude that with the punishment, the risk is too severe. It would seem the Anatomy Act has very weak punishment prescriptions because if for instance in contravention of the Act, an unauthorized person deals with a body without permission and delivers such a body to an anatomy student who dissects it without the knowledge of his superintendent, medical practitioner etc, the greatest punishment either of them could suffer is 3 months imprisonment or a fine of one hundred naira or both as provided in S.11 of the Act. As a matter of law, the descendants and relatives are entitled to claim damages in a court of law for such contraventions. I am not aware at this time of any decided case on this point but it is an area which is open to exploration in future. I believe that such contravention is actionable. A more severe punishment is required to serve as an effective deterrent to potential offenders and to demonstrate the seriousness of the offence.



Having examined the inadequacies of the Anatomy act, one can safely conclude that a different approach is needed to establish more effective systems and procedures to improve donor rates and regulate anatomical sciences more effectively.

In re-considering the provisions of the Act with a view to bringing same up to speed with contemporary developments in Anatomical sciences, there is now one most viable option which is AN AMENDMENT OF THE ACT