This film is about the state of the art of medical science in that era. It is about the "body snatchers," people who would sell dead bodies to doctors (science) so that autopsies and dissections could be performed. Check your gag reflexes because this is a time honored practice to learn about the human body and expected in medical schools. The "body snatchers" were not always the most moral and ethical people, however, and so by modern day standards they may be thought of as criminals.
But what else did those who wanted to understand and some day cure diseases that killed people like typhus and cholera have to work with if not the bodies of the dead? Methods then were primitive compared to now, as were the tools to saw a skull in half. In this society there was no concept of virus or germs and people were dying of kidney stones and gall stones, which we well understand today, as well as broken bones. Today many people donate part or all of their bodies for organ transplants and skin grafts and there is huge debate over the ownership of sperm and eggs that are frozen for later use once the people who donated them don't want to or can't pay for them to be kept.
In the 18th century, men who were sentenced to death wrote begging letters to their families to claim their bodies before they were sold or given away, fearing the desecration even though they'd be dead.
So though Benjamin Franklin is one of my favorite most fascinating historical personages, perhaps what was more interesting was that when he returned to America, this "Second Family" he had lived with in London was brought here to live and their family tree is full of doctors, including a woman who will show you some of the family documents that link Ben Franklin and their family.