Accepted paper:

With who's permission? Using human skeletal tissue to build identified skeletal collections


Francisca Alves Cardoso (CRIA, NOVA FCSH)

Paper short abstract:

Portuguese Human Identified Skeletal Collections (HISC) are build using human remains recovered from modern cemeteries, some of which containing individuals that died less than 10 years ago. It is therefore imperative to discuss ethico-legal issues associated with the Portuguese HISC.

Paper long abstract:

As a bioanthropologist I have worked in the past two decades with Human Identified Skeletal Collections (HISC) from Portugal, studying past populations' health and behavior. However, recently I have experienced a growing concern with the absence of discussion over ethico-legal issues associated with the building of HISC, some of which composed of people that died as recently as the last decade. Individuals are incorporated into HISC based on the premise that they have been abandoned by relatives, according to cemetery regulations. These state that if individuals buried in temporary graves are unclaimed after a legally stipulated period of occupation, they have been abandoned. The premise is highly questionable as although the vacancy of the grave is made public at local cemeteries' notice boards (sometimes in newspapers), this information may not reach living relatives or they may simply be unable to afford the costs of perpetual graves. Important is also the fact that communities are never engaged, and to date people are unaware that they may have their skeleton incorporated into a HISC without their permission. In order to bring this closer to communities, interviews will be conducted to assess their knowledge, opinion on the subject, and if they agree with this practice. A minimum of 50 exploratory interviews will be conducted which will be useful to build the discussion around ethico-legal of using human skeletal tissue to construct HISC.

panel P20
New immortalities: anthropological reflections on the procurement, transformation and use of human cadaveric tissue