Most specimens in the Maude Abbott Medical Museum are human organs preserved in formaldehyde and mounted in glass jars. The earlier specimens – from the 1880s to the 1920s – were mostly derived from autopsies. Although these continued to be used as a source of material for many years, the increasing ability of surgeons to operate safely led to greater preservation of excised organs from living patients from the 1930s until the 1950s, when the last specimens still existing in the collection were collected. In both of these situations, specific consent to preserve and use organs for teaching was not obtained, from either patients or the patient’s family members. At the time they were collected, it was instead “understood” that a patient admitted to a teaching hospital consented to such donation, a practice that has been abandoned for many years. Since the use of organs at that time was accepted within the medical establishment as a normal procedure meant to advance the understanding of disease and aid the training of future doctors, we have decided that this material should be preserved and exhibited despite the absence of specific patient consent.
The many nameless individuals who “gave of themselves” for this purpose by what might be considered a form of cultural consent are to be respected. We owe them our thanks and sincere appreciation for the legacy they have left us.