'Irish Giant' should be buried - experts

2011-12-22 22:03

London - Two experts say the skeleton of an 18th century man nicknamed the "Irish Giant" should be removed from a museum and buried at sea in keeping with his last wishes.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, medical ethicist Len Doyal and lawyer Thomas Muinzer said there is no good scientific reason to display the skeleton of Charles Byrne, and a strong moral case against it.

Byrne stood about 2.3m tall, and died in 1783 at age 22. His skeleton was obtained by pioneering surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, and is on display in London's Hunterian Museum.

Museum director Sam Alberti said on Thursday that the skeleton is still valuable to scientists, who have used Byrne's DNA to help develop treatments for acromegaly, a hormonal disorder from which he suffered.

  • Eugene - 2011-12-23 06:30

    Perhaps a good compromise would be to keep the skeleton but not display it publicly.

      Paul - 2011-12-23 08:16

      Agreed, yet! If his wish was to be buried at sea, then why not respect that. After all who much more DNA can they take from his bones?

      raath - 2011-12-23 08:24

      I think they should scan it with a laser, make a resin replica of it, and then bury the original remains. I sometimes get really mad at archaeologists. They're nothing but glorified legal grave robbers.

      Eugene - 2011-12-23 10:09

      Paul: It is a good question whether such wishes should be respected. We didn't respect Pharaoh Tutankhamun's wish to be left in peace either, but in the process learned so much that perhaps it outweighs his wishes. Of course, the more recently someone died, the more likely we are to leave his remains in peace. As Raath points out, archeologists are in a sense legal grave robbers. But I think that is a rather unkind way of putting it; they are after all not in it for profit or indeed for anything but the noblest of motives, and without their work we would have been completely in the dark about our history (and it should be noted that much of the techniques and knowledge they gained are now used in highly useful pursuits, such as forensics). In this particular case, there are perhaps limits to how much more can be learned from the skeleton, but you never know. Who knows what new techniques might be developed in ten or twenty years, to learn things from bones that we never dreamed possible. Perhaps that skeleton might then suddenly acquire new value. If they do bury it, it might be a good idea then to bury it in such a manner that the bones will not deteriorate. Old bones can have very great scientific value, which must be weighed against the need to respect the dead.

  • Rebel_without_a_cause - 2011-12-23 09:36

    "Museum director Sam Alberti said on Thursday that the skeleton is still valuable to scientists, who have used Byrne's DNA to help develop treatments for acromegaly" Are they actually saying that the DNA of the living sufferers of acromegaly can not be used in the studies? His wishes should be honored. Burial at sea.....

      Eugene - 2011-12-23 10:11

      I'm sure the DNA of living sufferers is also useful, but the more samples the better. Perhaps many different genes are involved, and not all patients have the same defective genes? Perhaps the genes have evolved since the 18th century? I can think of many questions this skeleton may help to answer, and I'm not even a scientist.

  • ludlowdj - 2011-12-25 12:23

    in 1783 he might have cared, now almost 300 years later does it really make that much difference? his request would not be fulfilled anyway as bones a body do not make. science itself would not have a problem with recovering bone from the sea bed for study, so to imply that there is a moral obligation to honour this man,s (who's mortal coil has long since departed and who by now has moved on to more pressing matters if one is to believe every religion on earth) "wishes" then it would logically follow that the same moral obligation would then apply to ever "body" found.

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