Definition of Cadaver

Reviewed on 3/29/2021

Cadaver: A dead human body that may be used by physicians and other scientists to study anatomy, identify disease sites, determine causes of death, and provide tissue to repair a defect in a living human being. Students in medical schools study and dissect cadavers as part of their education.

Others who study cadavers include archaeologists and artists. It is said that the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo (1475-1564) studied cadavers by candlelight in a dark morgue -- enduring the smell of rotting flesh -- in order to better understand bone and sinew and muscle. The fruits of his efforts are evident in his painting "The Creation of Adam" on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome and in his marble sculpture "David" in the Galleria dell' Accademia in Florence.

Courts of law sometimes use the term cadaver to refer to a dead body, as do recovery teams searching for bodies after a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood. A dead body is usually a corpse in a mystery story. The term cadaver also apparently has a more deathly ring in medicine.

"Cadaver" comes from the Latin word "cadere" (to fall). Related terms include "cadaverous" (resembling a cadaver) and "cadaveric spasm" (a muscle spasm that causes a dead body to twitch or jerk). A "cadaver graft" (also called "postmortem graft") refers to the grafting of tissue from a dead body onto a living human to repair a defect.


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