Charles Byrne, Last Victim of the Bodysnatchers: The Legal Case for Burial

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The retention and display of the remains of Charles Byrne, an Irishman with acromegaly, by the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons has been contentious for some years, and the moral case for his release for burial has been repeatedly made. This article makes the legal case through five arguments. The first three concern common law rights and duties; Byrne’s right to burial, the duty of the State to ensure his burial where others do not, and the right of his friends to assume that duty. The fourth concerns Byrne’s common law right to direct his disposal, and, related to this, not to be retained and displayed. The fifth, which underpins the rest, is that Byrne is not, and has never been property, and it is in fact intuitively and legally arguable that he, like other corpses, remains a person. The article finally outlines three options available to those wishing to ensure Byrne finally has the burial at sea that he sought to ensure in 1783.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-283
Number of pages32
JournalMedical Law Review
Issue number2
Early online date11 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2021


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