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Jeremy Bentham's Skeleton

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Incident Report Description

Jeremy Bentham, a British philosopher who died in 1832,left his entire estate to the London Hospital provided that his body be allowed to preside over its board meetings. His skeleton was clothed and fitted with a wax mask of his face. It was present at the meeting for 92 years.

Jeremy Bentham ( /ˈbɛnθəm/ or /ˈbɛntəm/; 15 February 1748 – 6 June 1832) was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism. He is best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism and animal rights, and the idea of the panopticon.

As requested in his will, Bentham's body was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture. Afterward, the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the "Auto-icon", with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham's clothes. Originally kept by his disciple Thomas Southwood Smith, it was acquired by University College London in 1850. It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the college, but for the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, it was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where it was listed as "present but not voting".
The Auto-icon has a wax head, as Bentham's head was badly damaged in the preservation process. The real head was displayed in the same case for many years but became the target of repeated student pranks. It is now locked away securely.

Bentham is widely recognised as one of the earliest proponents of animal rights. He argued that the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason, should be the benchmark, or what he called the "insuperable line." Bentham said that it was the placing of women in a legally inferior position that made him choose, at the age of eleven, the career of a reformist. Bentham spoke for a complete equality between sexes.
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