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What is a Prosection?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Prosection involves the dissection of a cadaver by a professional, for the purpose of demonstrating specific techniques and anatomical features of particular interest. A cadaver which has been dissected using this process is also known as a prosection, and prosections are often used in medical education. Like dissection, prosection is controversial in some regions of the world, with some people arguing that both dissection and prosection should be struck from medical syllabi, while others feel that prosection is not hands-on enough, and that students would learn more through direct dissection.

The practice of prosection is quite ancient. Historically, for example, medical schools would use prosections with the cadavers of criminals to teach their students about anatomy. In fact, such prosections were often used as a criminal punishment, because people believed that dissection was literally a fate worse than death, as it would prevent someone from being resurrected on judgment day. As numerous ghoulish prints attest, dissections were usually open to the public.

In modern medical schools, prosection is often used in anatomy classes to show students specific anatomical structures. One advantage to prosection labs rather than dissection lab classes is that only one cadaver is required, and preserved prosections can be be re-used, reducing the demand for cadavers for dissection. However, some students feel that they suffer as a result of not being able to personally identify specific structures of interest; surgeons especially sometimes lament the lack of dissection opportunities in medical school.

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Preserved prosections are useful when a teacher wishes to focus on a specific topic. For example, prepared prosections of the chest may be laid out, with students being asked to identify particular structures. The use of professionally prepared prosections ensures that the task is equally challenging for all students, and that the cadavers are reasonably uniform, making test-taking fair.

Just as in dissection, a respectful, conscientious attitude is cultivated in regards to prosection. Students are expected to treat prosections with the same respect they would use during dissections, and prosected bodies are usually covered at the end of class and handled gently during the class period as a mark of respect for the fact that they are human remains. In veterinary schools, equal reverence for life is encouraged, with many schools using donated animals who have died of natural causes for prosections rather than euthanizing animals specifically for use in anatomy labs.

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anon112953
Post 1

Defining prosection as "dissection...by a professional" is incorrect. While prosectors are very often professionals, that is not what the term means.

That is to say, prosection is not a contraction of "professional dissector". The etymology of the word prosection comes from the Latin pro- meaning "before" + sectio meaning "a cutting". A prosection is a dissection that has already been performed before a student studies it.

It not necessarily a dissection by a "professional".

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