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Ethical considerations for creating a Human Taphonomy Facility in the UK


Human Taphonomy Facilities are outdoor laboratories where forensic scientists investigate and monitor the decomposition of donated human cadavers in a variety of conditions. The use of human cadavers for this purpose is potentially controversial, as opinions differ about the value of the research conducted at such facilities and the extent to which the dignity of the deceased is preserved. As a result of the use of human cadavers for forensic research, there are ethical issues to consider if contemplating the creation of such a facility. Currently, there is no such facility in the UK, and the legal and ethical landscape in the UK regarding the use of human tissue is unique. Therefore, this chapter outlines the ethical considerations surrounding the creation of a Human Taphonomy Facility (HTF) in the United Kingdom. It starts with an overview of why controlled experiments are necessary for forensic investigations, and their potential importance for search and dating discovered remains. The chapter then acknowledges and discusses the usefulness of animal proxies for this research, with benefits of replicants, known age/diet, and availability. The rest of the paper then defines a HTF, explaining the need for controlled research and the importance of using human remains for controlled experiments. Finally, a discussion on why donation of human organs is routine and whole cadavers is not, the potential ethical considerations for body donation, the mechanics of how to run a HTF, and finally the considerations of public opinion.

Acceptance Date Jul 11, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 2, 2020
Publication Date Jan 2, 2020
Publisher Springer
Book Title Ethical Challenges in the Analysis of Human Remains
ISBN 978-3-030-32925-9; 978-3-030-32928-0