The traditionally held assumption that ancient corpses are "fair
game" for scientists to dissect and investigate
is wilting under new pressure from leading academics. And The New Scientist's
Jo Marchant is on the scene to suss out the moral debate on what can or can't be probed when dealing with ancient human remains.
Here's an good example of one of these cases: In investigating the remains of the famous Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen are scientists unwittingly violating, "his wish to be remembered as strong and healthy"? Or, "on the other hand," are researchers only "increasing his fame" which fits nicely "with his desire to be remembered after death"?
Marchant, who ironically penned a previous article entitled On the Trail of Tutankhamen's Penis (more on that here), dryly notes that ancient subjects can't exactly "provide consent" for what researchers do. So how far should modern researchers go to preserve the wishes of the ancients?
In a recent paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics (DOI: 10.1136/jme.2010.036608), anatomist Frank Rühli and ethicist Ina Kaufmann of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, argue that this is disturbing because research on mummies is invasive and reveals intimate information such as family history and medical conditions.
...Holm says it would be difficult to devise a universal policy, but a checklist of questions to consider would be useful. Rühli would rather scientists took personal responsibility. "If a researcher is planning to work on a mummy, I would like to see that he thinks about it.