Oral and maxillofacial surgeons’ assessment of the role of Pernkopf's atlas in surgical practice

Andrew Yee, Jessica Li, Joshua Lilly, Sabine Hildebrandt, William E. Seidelman, Doug Brown, Piroska Kopar, J. Henk Coert, Susan E. Mackinnon, Howard A. Israel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The use of the Pernkopf atlas of human anatomy in surgery presents ethical challenges due to the author's association with the Nazi regime and the potential depiction of victims of this regime. The atlas was of particular utility to two surgical specialties: nerve surgeons and oral and maxillofacial surgeons. The representation of peripheral nerves and complex head and neck anatomy is probably unequaled in any other atlas of anatomy. While the ethical implications of the use of Pernkopf's atlas among nerve surgeons have been previously assessed, this study focuses on the volume dedicated to detailed images of head and neck dissections, and the ethical implications of using this atlas by oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Objective: To (1) assess the role of the Pernkopf atlas in oral and maxillofacial surgeons’ current practice and (2) determine whether a proposal of four conditions would provide ethical guidance for use in surgery and education. Methods: Members of three American oral and maxillofacial surgical societies (ACOMS, ASTMJS, AAOMS) were surveyed and 181 responses collected. The survey introduced the historical origin of the Pernkopf atlas, and respondents were asked whether they would use the atlas under specific conditions that could be a recommendation for its ethical handling. An anatomical plate comparison between Netter's and Pernkopf's atlases was performed to compare accuracy and surgical utility. Results: Forty-nine percent of respondents were aware of the Pernkopf atlas, and 9% of respondents were currently using it. Amongst those aware of the historical facts, 42% were comfortable using the atlas, 33% uncomfortable, and 25% undecided. The four conditions involving disclosure, bioethical and religious considerations, and remembrance led to 75% of those “uncomfortable” and “undecided” becoming “comfortable” with use. Conclusions: Amid recent developments and controversy regarding the Pernkopf atlas, a proposal detailing conditions for an ethical approach may provide guidance in surgical planning and education. Furthermore, this approach has implications for the future preparation and publication of anatomical atlases and their use.

Original languageEnglish
Article number151614
JournalAnnals of Anatomy
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Anatomy
  • Medical ethics
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Pernkopf atlas


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