As a young teenager, I remember being horrified to learn that my parents had decided to donate their bodies to medical science after death. A light-hearted family discussion took place at the time and then the subject was never mentioned again. Donating your body for the advancement of medical knowledge is a wonderful gesture but it’s a huge decision to make and consideration is required for those who will be left behind to carry out the request.
Not every person who registers for a donation can be sure that he or she will be accepted in the end. There are a number of factors which preclude the university from accepting certain bodies, including contagious diseases, extreme emaciation or obesity, or whether or not a post-mortem has been carried out on the body. Organ donors whose organs are used for transplant are also excluded. Those who do decide to register with any of the universities, receive an information pack detailing how things will operate in the event of their death, and a donation form to be signed by the donor and his/her next of kin. The procedure varies little between the institutions involved, usually requiring the remains to be picked up within a short space of time after the donor’s death and taken to the academic institution of choice. Bodies can then be kept there for up to three years. During this time, they are used primarily to help undergraduate healthcare students to learn the systems and physicality of the human body. Many postgraduates also use the subjects donated for further study in a number of areas, including ear, nose and throat surgery and endoscopic surgery. From time to time, the dissecting room is also used by surgeons who want to try out a new incision or a new technique before embarking on surgery on a living human.
Once an institution wants to release the person’s remains, their family is contacted and arrangements made to transport the body of the deceased to the final resting place. This can be one of the private plots in Glasnevin cemetery maintained by the universities for burial, with the cost of this burial or cremation covered by the relevant institution. If the family wishes to bury their loved one at an alternative location, the university will cover the costs of transport, providing it is within a specified radius of the institution, while the opening of the grave and other expenses involved are borne by the deceased’s estate. Despite the possible financial advantages to such an outcome, the universities involved are at pains to stress that the financial considerations are not usually what compel those on their books to donate their bodies. Ireland is not experiencing any difficulty in finding donors. Indeed, such has been the response from the public here that one college has temporarily halted registering new donors.
People who register to donate their bodies can change their minds. Relatives of prospective donors can also decide against going through with the process once the donor has passed away, given that the registration form is not considered a legally binding document. As it turned out, my parents subsequently withdrew their registration to “advance medical science” having given further thought to the full implications of their decision. I was more than grateful for this change of heart when some years later, I found myself working in the dissection room as part of my physiotherapy training and now that my undergraduate daughter is also doing time there, I’ve every reason to be thankful that my parents (now in their 80’s) took great care in making this important decision.
The information supplied in this post was found at the Irish Times online.