Donating “to science”

In my ear­ly teens, my fra­ter­nal grand­moth­er, in her ear­ly nineties, died. There was no funer­al, just a memo­r­i­al ser­vice. Non­nie had giv­en her body to sci­ence. I had no idea what that meant exact­ly, and I did­n’t ques­tion it. But it seemed like a good and hon­or­able thing to do.

About twen­ty-five years lat­er (1996), my father died. He, too, had giv­en his body “to sci­ence.” We all knew ahead of time that Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty would receive cus­tody of his body when the time came. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Dad died while vaca­tion­ing in Flori­da. So the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mia­mi got his body.

At this point, I under­stood bet­ter that what this meant was that future doc­tors get a hands-on anato­my les­son. Although I assumed that such stu­dents went about the dis­sec­tions with a bit more respect than what might be found in a high school class dis­sect­ing frogs, I also assumed that it was all very anony­mous. A year or so lat­er, Dad’s cre­mat­ed remains were returned to Mom and were interred in a grave.

About a year ago, Mom (Anne) passed. We all knew ahead of time that she had donat­ed her body to Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty. They were called. They took care of every­thing. It was a bless­ing to not have to urgent­ly deal with any details of a ser­vice or funer­al. A memo­r­i­al ser­vice was held.

Sev­er­al months lat­er, my old­est sib­ling received a let­ter from the instruc­tor of Human Gross Anato­my at the Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine — North­west. From the letter:

Your beloved moth­er bequeathed her body for use in anatom­i­cal edu­ca­tion. Anne’s gifts to my stu­dents, myself and our fac­ul­ty and staff are many; her gift of “self” is the most pro­found gift that any per­son can give. We have learned much and con­tin­ue to learn from Anne. Your moth­er will touch the lives of the thou­sands of peo­ple that we serve.

This let­ter was an invi­ta­tion to the school’s annu­al Ser­vice of Thanks­giv­ing & Remem­brance of Our Donors. Four of Anne’s chil­dren attend­ed this ser­vice. It was pow­er­ful and mov­ing. There were prayers and read­ings. But there was also the oppor­tu­ni­ty for the four stu­dents who worked with Mom to tell us what they learned.

When they men­tioned Mom’s bro­ken arm, my broth­er told the sto­ry of how it broke and what hap­pened in the hospital.

There were six donors being hon­ored that day. Twen­ty-three stu­dents educated.

Anony­mous? I do believe that all 23 stu­dents will always remem­ber with grat­i­tude the name of the donor he or she worked with.

Mom & Dad gave tire­less­ly to so many peo­ple all their lives. And beyond.

It is my under­stand­ing that though the IU School of Med­i­cine — North­west is the only school that holds such a ser­vice, the respect, rev­er­ence and grat­i­tude exhib­it­ed by the stu­dents we met that day are the norm.

More info can be found at the Anatom­i­cal Edu­ca­tion Pro­gram web site.

5 thoughts on “Donating “to science””

  1. That sounds like a very respect­ful pro­gram they have. When you say it’s your belief that such respect is the norm, were you just say­ing it or try­ing to com­bat ideas that it’s not. I have heard some bad things that have coloured my opin­ion, admit­ted­ly but the uni did take dras­tic mea­sures in response.

  2. kristarel­la,

    On the day of the Ser­vice, there was a con­ver­sa­tion about oth­er schools. I believe the instruc­tor had men­tioned that, to his knowl­edge, IU North­west was the only school that held a ser­vice (and they had only been hold­ing one for maybe six(?) years.

    That prompt­ed me to ask about the atti­tudes found at oth­er schools. No one could say that every school in the coun­try was com­pa­ra­ble, but to their knowl­edge the norm was respect, rev­er­ence and gratitude.

    I had that con­ver­sa­tion. I includ­ed it in the post. That’s all.

    Thanks for the question.

  3. Cool. Thanks for that. It’s good to know that such dona­tions are gen­uine­ly appreciated.

    Donat­ing your body to sci­ence could also be a very good option for some­one who want­ed to donate organs, but could­n’t because of dis­ease or med­ica­tion, or what­ev­er else. This would still be a way to help peo­ple. (I’d nev­er real­ly thought about it before.)

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