How to donate your body to science, Toronto Star, donate body to medical science.#Donate #body
How to donate your body to science
Every year, hundreds of Canadians leave their bodies to their local medical school. Doing so takes a little planning a lot of heart.
Bernadett Kovacs thought of the cadaver she worked on in medical school as a silent teacher, instructing her on the many secrets of the human body.
Things like how to differentiate, by feel, blood vessels from nerves. Or what cancer feels like in the lungs. Or how thick a particular type of incision needs to be.
For Kovacs, who plans to become a medical oncologist, the fact that hundreds of people each year choose to leave their bodies to the various medical schools that teach anatomy using cadavers is unbelievably generous.
It’s almost like you get a body as a teacher for awhile, says Kovacs, a third year medical student at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
We got these silent teachers who basically, in their last moments of life, they were still considering ‘What can I do to help out? ‘
Some medical schools, like the one at Universite de Montreal, have ceased requiring all medical students to work on a human corpse. Director Dr. Marcel Julien says the need to offer an increasingly complex mix of studies prompted a shift in the approach the university uses.
Students who wish to study in the traditional way can take an elective course offered at the Trois Rivieres campus of Universite du Quebec, 140 kilometres northeast of Montreal. The remainder study anatomy using CD-ROMs and other forms of passive teaching.
Science is evolving. We have so many things to teach students that we cannot give the same elements of anatomy as it was 10 years ago, Julien said. Because it’s too time consuming, it’s too complex, it’s too costly.
Still, many schools believe books, videos and instructors can only take a medical student so far. These schools feel students need to practise on as close to the real thing as is ethically possible in order to master the many procedures they’ll be called upon to perform when they are doctors.
Every year, hundreds of Canadians respond to that need by leaving their bodies to their local medical school.
Louise Landry, 60, plans to be one of those people when she dies. Landry, who lives in the Montreal suburb of Ile Bizard, has told her children she wants to donate her body to McGill University after her death.
One of her brothers, a medical doctor, learned anatomy working on a donated human cadaver. That inspired Landry’s decision. This past May, another of her brothers left his body to McGill when he died.
I would much rather be useful to society by donating my body than having it cremated at death, she explains in an email.
As with organ donation, leaving one’s body to science requires some planning. One’s doctor and family members should be informed of the decision. After all, in the end it will be up to them to ensure the intention to donate is carried out.
Being a program that’s word of mouth, we need people to make sure that they inform the health-care provider at the time of death that this individual does want to donate, says Brenda Armstrong, an administrative secretary in Dalhousie’s human body donation program.
And basically if the family is not in agreement to the donation, then it will not happen. So they wouldn’t probably make contact with the inspector of anatomy, because they’ve talked amongst themselves and said: ‘I just don’t think I can go through with this. ‘
Armstrong talks to people who call to inquire about leaving their bodies to Dalhousie, and she often hears stories like Landry’s.
A lot of times somebody has experienced a death of a family member or they’ve had surgery or someone in their family has had surgery, she says about what seems to motivate people who sign up for the program.
And they come to the realization what a great gift it is to give their body so that others can learn.
Other factors may come into play in some cases, says Nancy Nelson, a spokesperson for McGill University’s department of anatomy, which needs and gets about 75 bodies a year.
A lot of them do it out of consideration for their children and the people left behind, says Nelson.
Some of them are not wealthy and it’s a very convenient way to make arrangements so that the people that are left don’t have to make arrangements when they’re all distraught and sad.
Not all bodies are suitable for donation. A corpse that has undergone an autopsy cannot be used as a medical teaching tool.
In essence, the body has to be intact and in sufficiently good condition that it can be preserved for the extended period – up to three years and perhaps longer – that it will remain in the hands of the medical school. So the corpse of a person who died in a fire or serious trauma or who had recently undergone a major abdominal operation could not be used.
People who want to donate their organs after their death cannot also donate their corpses – it’s an either-or situation. There is a single exception. People who donate their bodies to a medical school can donate their corneas as well.
Depending on where a person lives, another option is to donate one’s brain to a brain bank, like that maintained by Montreal’s Douglas Research Institute, a facility dedicated to the study of mental health.
The Douglas Brain Bank, which contains about 3,000 brains, is used by researchers to try to identify differences that might help answer pressing mental health questions. A recently published study based on research using brains from the bank showed that certain growth factors are differentially expressed in the brains of people with schizophrenia.
It’s an extremely precious gift, brain bank director Naguib Mechawar says of the donated brains.
Of course, for us researchers, being able to study the human brain and the brain of someone that suffered a horrible disease and to be able to conduct research and better understand that disorder, that means that it’s a fundamental gift to society in general.
Procedures vary from program to program. But in general, when a person leaves his or her body to a medical school, the school will cover the cost of the eventual cremation of the remains.
A number of schools also have a collective cemetery plot for donors and will cover the cost of interment for those who agree to have their remains buried in it. If next-of-kin want the remains of a loved one returned for interment in a family plot, some or all costs may revert to the family.
Most hold a memorial ceremony once a year to honour the people whose bodies have taught their students so much. Kovacs spoke at the ceremony Dalhousie held last spring.
That’s when they become people again, she says of the closure the ceremony affords families and students alike.
They’re no longer our teachers, they’re no longer tools anymore. They become what they were before we got them. They become people. They become fathers and mothers. They become grandmothers.