The autopsy was conducted “Under most inauspicious circumstances:” John Turner, Harvey Cushing’s case XXXII, and his unwitting contributions to the early understanding of acromegaly
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Harvey Cushing’s monograph The Pituitary Body and Its Disorders describes Case XXXII, a 36-year-old man who presented with gigantism in 1910. The detailed post-mortem exam findings are prefaced with a cryptic statement, describing “inauspicious circumstances” surrounding the autopsy. Although contemporary biographies of Cushing have offered insight into these circumstances, the original surgical file for Case XXXII has not been previously reviewed. The original Johns Hopkins Hospital surgical records were reviewed, and the case of John Turner, who Cushing identified by name in his monograph The Pituitary Body and Its Disorders, was selected for further review. A review of the original surgical file revealed a typewritten note by Dr. Crowe, one of the surgeons who performed the post-mortem exam, with a handwritten addendum by Dr. Cushing. This document provides detail regarding the “inauspicious circumstances” surrounding the autopsy. Namely, the autopsy was conducted without permission of the family, during the funeral service, following a payment to the undertaker. The new information regarding the autopsy of John Turner offers insight into the previously incompletely described circumstances surrounding the autopsy. Additionally, the case illuminates the obligations and ethical quandaries that physician–scientists face.