Dissection of a human body during an anatomy course raises for first-year medical students questions about invasion of privacy, cadaver sources, dying and death. Emotions evoked are often heightened by the fear and uneasiness each student experiences when dissecting the body of a human being. Providing curricular resources for identification and discussion of reactions to death and dissection early in the first year can demonstrate to students the humanity of having such reactions, and that these reactions can be understood and managed more or less appropriately. An elective course has been offered to first-year medical students at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for 10 years; the students' reception of this evolving programme has been enthusiastic. The rationale, content, resources and responses of such a course are presented.