Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Reading Roach's Stiff and talking about it in my body class has brought up the inevitable topic of donating one's body to science.

Two of my students have family members in medicine who've done human gross anatomy classes, and they talked about what their family members have said; one says his sibling plans to donate her body to science, while the other says her sibling decided not to donate her body to science because of her class. Interesting stuff.

I don't have any religious convictions that would stop me from donating my body. When I read

At the round earth's imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
of souls, and to your scattered bodies go...
(Donne, "Holy Sonnet #4")

I understand the basic theology, but I don't have an emotive response to the religious imperitive. And then I start thinking about all the "what if" cases: what if your arm were cut off in youth? Do you end up armless in heaven/hell? If you die a horrible death, would you be resurrected in that kind of pain?

Enough of that. The point is that I don't have a religious need to try to keep my body whole, and I don't think there's a spiritual afterlife.

I've never done human dissection, but I've dissected other critters, from bugs to mammals of various sorts, and it didn't gross me out. On one level, I'm not really grossed out at the thought of someone cutting me to pieces once I'm dead (I'm totally against being drawn and quartered while alive, though, just to be clear.)

But I'm stopped cold by the thought of people making nasty comments about my dead body. Why is that? I mean, it's not like I'd be there to hear and get hurt feelings, right?

People in my classes did name their dissection critters names (there was a "FatCat" in my vertebrate morphology cat dissection lab, I recall). We weren't a nice bunch, I guess, or sensitive.

And the thought of being in a post-mortem car accident: I somehow can't get beyond the idea of pain in an accident, while that doesn't really get me when I think of dissection. I don't know quite why that is.

On the other hand, what Roach has to say about buried and cremated bodies doesn't make those sound appealing, either. I can't bear the thought of being buried in the cold winter ground of the upper midwest. I'd sort of figured on being cremated and tossed into the ocean, but I've read somewhere that human ashes aren't really good for the ocean. So I don't know.

It's time to go read something more fun. The Changeling's up for my drama class, so that should be a pleasant change! (I adore this play, by the way, just adore it, but I've never taught it before! I'm so excited!)

Meanwhile, what do you think: donation or no?

ps. Yes, I have an organ donor sticker, but that seems totally different to me, for some odd reason.


  1. Anonymous1:00 PM

    You can also donate your body to the Body Farm in Tennessee. They wouldn't comment on your corpse; they'd just cut it up and bury it in various places on the farm to let it decompose at different paces.

    Gross, but it least it helps forensic science.

  2. Anonymous2:03 PM

    I think it takes a brave individual to donate his/her body to science for dissection purposes. Having gone through human anatomy classes, I will mention that the bodies are treated with utmost respect -- it's expected of everyone who participates in such an exercise.

    I agree that organ donation is very different from "whole body" donation -- even though it would seem that a donation is a donation...but there's something less scary about giving your cornea or bone tissue versus your entire body.

    As for the theological issues regarding body or no body, I've always been taught that at the Resurrection we'll all be whole and pain-free. (Just FYI, not trying to proselytize at this point!)

    Interesting discussion (as always!)...I want to be one of your students!

  3. I couldn't give my whole body to science and it's for the same reason you mention: I don't want people remarking on my body. I'm sure that they would treat it (for the most part - there's always a jerk) with respect, but I don't want someone saying that the "grossly enlarged X undoubtedly contributed to the individual's demise". I like the thought of giving my good organs (the ones that could still be of use) to someone to *keep going* - if the rest of me is worn out, then cremate me and throw me on a lilac bush!

  4. I was going to mention the Body Farm too (technically the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee). They say that you can donate organs and still give the rest of your body to them; it's about the only chance you have to decompose naturally (and I'm just morbid enough to think that's very cool).

  5. For the record, I never, ever heard anyone say anything disrespectful about the cadaver in or around the anatomy lab. If anything, we got "close" to the bodies. We knew their ages and what they did for a living, but nothing about the families. We wondered about their lives. It was very respectful at my school, at least. Around Memorial Day each year, they have a funeral service to remember the donors. A lot of the families come every year. It was a very moving service.

  6. Anonymous6:57 AM

    I believe in some of the cool progressive European countries, people are experimenting with funeral composting. I like that idea a lot, as a soil biologist.

    Oh, and even as a devout Christian, I've never been able to wrap my mind around bodily resurrection enough to worry about how and where my body ends up! Treating bodies respectfully is one thing but agonizing that someone won't be resurrected because they were cremated instead of buried is just -- silly.

  7. I'm all for donating any usable parts for transplant or science. In fact, I kind of like the idea that my skeleton could hang in a lab somewhere and really hot medical students felt my bones all day long and maybe they would do nice things like at Christmas hang ornaments on my rib cage or during Easter they could put plastic eggs in my pelvic area or maybe name me a really cool name like Bridget or Marilyn. I have no thoughts on how or if resurrection occurs, but I think of all the people who lost their heads, like John the Baptists and Saul whose head was cut off post mortem and I think, well, cutting off parts is okay.