J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/jme.2010.036608
  • Research ethics

Without ‘informed consent’? Ethics and ancient mummy research

  1. F J Rühli2,3
  1. 1University Research Priority Program, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  2. 2Institute for the History of Medicine, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  3. 3Institute of Anatomy, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr F J Rühli, Institute of Anatomy, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstr. 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland; frank.ruhli{at}
  • Received 13 March 2010
  • Accepted 17 May 2010
  • Published Online First 29 July 2010


Ethical issues are of foremost importance in modern bio-medical science. Ethical guidelines and socio-cultural public awareness exist for modern samples, whereas for ancient mummy studies both are de facto lacking. This is particularly striking considering the fact that examinations are done without informed consent or that the investigations are invasive due to technological aspects and that it affects personality traits. The aim of this study is to show the pro and contra arguments of ancient mummy research from an ethical point of view with a particular focus on the various stakeholders involved in this research. Relevant stakeholders in addition to the examined individual are, for example, a particular researcher, and the science community in general, likely descendents of the mummy or any future generation. Our broad discussion of the moral dilemma of mummy research should help to extract relevant decision-making criteria for any such study in future. We specifically do not make any recommendations about how to rate these decision-factors, since this is highly dependent on temporal and cultural affiliations of the involved researcher. The sustainability of modern mummy research is dependent on ethical orientation, which can only be given and eventually settled in an interdisciplinary approach such as the one we attempt to present here.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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