By far, the most valuable experience I have had while in med school is working with my cadaver. Many medical schools are moving away from gross anatomy lab and dissection, but I truly feel that no medical education is complete without it. As such, I have decided to donate my body to science. Now I understand that body donation is not for everyone, but let me tell you why you should at least consider it…
The first, and most obvious reason, to donate your body to science is that you will, of course, be done with it. I find it funny how attached people are to their bodies that they have plans for them even after they are done using them. It is like when your brother is done playing with one of his toys, but he doesn’t want you to play with it either because it is his toy. Now some people don’t like the idea of something gross happening to their body. Well, I’ve got bad news for you, because that is the only thing that is going to happen to your body. Personally, I think being eaten by worms is a much more gruesome fate than becoming a cadaver.
The second reason that you should donate your body to science is that it helps people. I, for one, want my own physician to be knowledgeable and well-trained. I would rather have a surgeon take a few practice cuts on a cadaver before experimenting on me. Doctors don’t become doctors by magic. I think most people agree that using cadavers are a good thing, even if they don’t personally want to end up as one.
The last, and most important reason, is that you get to live on even after you are dead. In Thailand, cadavers are called ajarn yai, which means “great teacher.” Each cadaver is given a bouquet of flowers during a special dedication ceremony. Medical students only refer to their cadavers as ajarn yai, and never as sop, which is the Thai word for cadaver. The students bow before their cadavers and pray for them regularly. Students are not only allowed to know the names of their cadavers, but it is expected that they will remember their cadaver’s name as long as they practice medicine.
I think this is a really beautiful way to think about body donation. I do have a special relationship with my cadaver. I will never forget “Walter” as long as I live. He has given so much to me by donating his body. Whenever I see a patient, Walter will be right there beside me. He will live on through the knowledge that I have acquired from him. I hope that one day I can have such a special relationship with someone else, only next time, I will be the teacher and not the student.
I don’t really expect to change your mind. I know that some people can’t get over the fact that someone would cut into you and dig around or whatever. Most med students feel the same way. I just hope that you can appreciate the beauty of body donation, and maybe consider it as a possible way to give back to the field of medicine. Thank you to all those who donate their bodies to science. You truly are “great teachers.”
Montross, Christine. Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab. New York: Penguin, 2007.