Say I wanted my loved ones to have my skull after my death. So that I could play Yorick or for whatever reason. Could I legally have my head removed, defleshed, and polished up nice to keep on the mantle?
These would be the people to ask, although their website says they only accept human specimens from accredited medical schools. However, they might know who would perform this service.
Comedian Del Close, who was well-known in improv circles, and a key figure at Second City, willed his skull to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago – and, in fact, he specified that it was to be used as Yorick’s skull in Hamlet. However, years after his death, his executor, Charna Halpern, admitted that the skull which the Goodman now has isn’t Close’s – she was pressured by the morgue to not let Close’s skull be used in this way, and wound up buying a skull from an anatomical supply company.
So, it may not be as easy to do this as you might hope.
Title edited to better indicate subject.
I had not heard this horrible revelation from Charms…
I knew Del and I’ve been to the Goodman prop shop and seen the skull in question. It was a very moving experience for me. If it truly is not his skull, I’m very disappointed.
The Tribune link I posted above doesn’t seem to be working properly, but here’s an article from The New Yorker about the skull – there’s a freewall, but if you don’t want to give them your email address to read the article, here are the key lines.
Yes, I’ve been surfing around since I read your post and have found several cites confirming the story.
Well, that’s a 20 yr belief down the drain…what’s next? The only solace is that Del would’ve found this whole charade hilarious!!
Here’s a comprehensive answer from a mortician. Apparently this is very common question!
In 1982, while I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh, the rugby team caused an uproar.
PITTSBURGH – Rugby club members attempting to rattle opponents before a game apparently rolled and kicked human heads on the field during a warmup, a published report said Friday.
Pitt, which investigated the theft of the items before announcing the withdrawal of the students, said the ‘anatomical material’ came from one of the medical schools served by a central anatomy lab at the Pitt School of Medicine.
Body Worlds is an educational exhibition that shows preserved human remains, and has been operating and touring for years. I saw them when they came to Canada several years ago. It seems to have been created by a pair of doctors, and the stated goal is mainly educational, so still tied to medicine and research. However there is definitely an art and commercial side to this operation, so there must be a system which permits the collection/preservation/display of human body parts. Whether or not a private citizen has access to that system is the question… I suspect not.
Then again, I’ve been to some local farms where the grand parents are buried on the property. One would wonder what’s to stop a bone-collecting hobbyist relative from coming out, digging them up, and just doing it? The main hurdle for most people seems to be physical access to the deceased, and I’d presume authorities would only get involved on a complaint-basis. So who would know if I had a collection of skulls in my basement?
Just a wag. Is there any possibility that you could make an arrangement with a med school that they use the body for a year for their anatomy course and, in return, prepare the skull for you?
Would your family really know if they got a skull that wasn’t yours?
I looked into some body farms. IIRC, the one at SIU, after all the soft bits are gone they articulate your skeleton. So your friends and family could come visit you, even if they couldn’t keep your skull on the mantel.
That was, more or less, one of the ideas that Charna Halpern unsuccessfully pursued to obtain Del Close’s skull (see post #6), though it’s possible that she might have found a different school or organization which would have agreed to participate if she’d had more time.
Previous iteration of this topic, for reference
If they were forensic pathologists, it would’ve been a far greater novelty for them to examine a body lacking effects of smoking, alcohol, cocaine and heroin.
A couple of years ago I had a scan of my head to investigate a sinus issue. I received a nifty copy of the scan which showed my “defleshed” skull. I would imagine it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to have such scan data turned into instructions for a 3-d printer.
Not quite a skull, but …
A friend had to have brain surgery a few years ago. This was going to involve a fairly big hole cut in the skull. She really wanted a picture of her own exposed brain matter. The surgeon was totally against it and refused to take any such pix or release any they’d make during the normal course of the procedure. Jerk.
The procedure was a great success and solved a serious problem she’d suffered from for years. She’s still pissed about not getting the pix.
Most of the answers to the question have rightly highlighted the practical problems but I’m not sure they speak to the legality of it. Let’s say I gift my head to my son in my will and my son happens to be a skilled surgeon with all the equipment needed to remove my head and keep it. Can anyone demand he hands it over after he removes it?
I’m guessing it was a legal liability issue. Any picture might contain some evidence of minor malpractice that could expose the surgeon to litigation.