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What Is the Library of Congress of the Dead?

Since 1862, the U.S. military has kept autopsy-tissue samples of soldiers. Preserved in paraffin, these remains are stored in warehouses referred to as the “Library of Congress of the Dead.”

In addition to autopsy samples, the warehouses comprising this Library of Congress of the Dead also store surgical-tissue samples. Preserved in paraffin, they fill many warehouses near Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The tissue samples allow scientists to examine items from the past to understand illnesses of the present (and to use contemporary tools to determine the cause of past diseases).

Do you think having a kind of “Library of Congress of the Dead” is a good idea? Why, or why not?

Do you think 21st-century scientists should have access to tissue samples of 19th-century people as they attempt to troubleshoot issues of today? Explain your answer.

Should soldiers, who served their country, have the right to agree (or not agree) that their tissue samples may be preserved for any use to which the U.S. federal government wishes to put them?  Why, or why not?


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