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Donating your body to science

anothermom-w-qanothermom-w-q 1084 replies41 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
edited March 2011 in Parent Cafe
My mom has told me her entire life that she wants to donate her body to a medical school, after her death. She is now 91 and recently diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. I have always intellectualized it, but I now keep waking up sobbing thinking about those students saying uncouth things and laughing. My H was one of those med students, and he told me stories about naming their cadavers and such. He said that helped him get through it, and that he learned a lot from it. But I am having trouble dealing with this more than any other end of life issue.

Any words of wisdom, please?
edited March 2011
31 replies
Post edited by anothermom-w-q on
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Replies to: Donating your body to science

  • pugmadkatepugmadkate 5824 replies64 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I'm so sorry that your mother is dying.

    I think times have changed. A dear friend of mine graduated from med school about ten years ago. Not only were they respectful, they had a memorial service at the end of the term.

    Perhaps it would help to remember that your mother is doing this because she does not believe that her body continues to useful after death. I feel much the same way. At this point in time, I've only indicated on my DL to donate all organs and so on but not my body because my spouse is not comfortable with it. But I am. And if those med students say uncouth things and/or laugh, well, I'll be long gone, at peace, and my wishes will still have been respected as they will be learning.

    Again, I"m so sorry.
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  • somemomsomemom 10839 replies324 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    My Dad was going to donate his body to our medical school, but in the end his cancer affected his liver and he had jaundice which made him ineligible, so do check the requirements!
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  • Mom0f3Mom0f3 228 replies30 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Med student 25+ year ago here! Yes, we did name our cadaver, and also made some jokes--because we were uncomfortable when faced for the first time in our young lives with death this close up. However, we also recognized the magnitude of the gift we'd be offered by the donors. We did talk about this in our class and had a very solemn memorial service at the conclusion of the semester. I think it is a wonderful gift your Mom wants to give -- contributing to the future competence and knowledge of a doctor who will be able to care for people like her. Maybe some day a surgeon will diagnose a pancreatic lesion in someone -- and will recognize it quickly because he saw it as a first year medical student in his anatomy class.
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  • OnwardOnward 2902 replies79 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    There is a book called Stiff which has at least one chapter on donating your body. The author and others really consider it an altruistic gift. The donation helps many people directly. The author witnessed many classes and said they were respectful and they also held a memorial service to honor the departed and their gift.

    Hugs to you.
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  • JustAMomOf4JustAMomOf4 4425 replies138 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    My mom had a friend who lost her first husband to cancer. he donated his body to a medical school. A few years after he died, the med school called her up. They were through with him and released him for burial.
    I don't think being a *believer* necessarily precludes donation - at least for many it doesn't. It is a gift from her to the future. How admirable.
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  • Mary13Mary13 3955 replies82 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    A friend of mine donated her body to science. Your mother is doing a wonderful thing. Medical students, despite their cover of levity, do appreciate it:
    "There is no greater gift, no larger measure of support than to give one's own body. These people who have gifted their bodies to us must have had a great deal of faith in us," said Colette Harrington, first-year medical student. "To receive such a profound gift should not only garner our respect, but spur us on to excellence in our pursuit to help others."

    Loyola University Chicago Stritch School Of Medicine Gives Blessing As Gross Anatomy Class Begins

    Here is an article from the Chicago Tribune that you may find reassuring:

    Medical students to their cadavers: Thank you - Chicago Tribune
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  • VeryHappyVeryHappy 18475 replies324 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    My father did exactly this, 11 years ago. At the time, I was a bit uncomfortable, but I think he made a huge potential contribution to science in some way. We in my family have always been of the belief that being buried just takes up valuable real estate. His conditions were that, after the med school was through with him, they would cremate him. We were never contacted as to when that occurred, and that was just fine with my sister and me.

    The only difficult part was that, when I called the New York Times to have a paid obituary placed in the paper, the Times wanted to call the funeral home to confirm that he was really dead. (The NYT is very careful not to print any "fake" or "joke" obituaries; they always require independent corroboration.) I didn't know how to answer -- there was no funeral home involved! I think I gave them the name of the hospital where he died, and that provided the NYT with the "proof" they needed.
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  • ShrinkrapShrinkrap 11539 replies251 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I don't remember any jokes or disrespect. I remember being fascinated. I remember my cadaver still had on her wedding ring. (graduted med school in '84).
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  • missypiemissypie 17979 replies503 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I always heard that the bodies were decorated for holidays, etc. It would creep me out, too. Maybe med students are more respectful these days.
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  • atomomatomom 4654 replies41 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    H graduated in 93. Took me to see the anatomy lab. Told me the nicknames,etc. (No holiday decor that I know of). I think the students are nervous, and yes it is a little crude, but not that bad. They have policies to keep it respectful and the profs take it seriously. Students wouldn't want to jeopardize their careers by doing anything against the rules. I think it helps that about half of the students are women now. (Call me sexist, but I think that cuts down on the crudeness.) Of course the students know that they'll be dead bodies, too someday! Yes, they did have a memorial service. H's grandma died of breast/bone cancer, and donated her body to a med school. She was a devout Catholic-- her husband was a doctor. It was a little strange for the family since they didn't have the usual funeral with the coffin, burial, etc. but everyone knew this was what she wanted, so they were fine with it.

    Can you talk to your mom about it? If she is not really set on it, and you are THAT uncomfortable with it, don't do it. (I heard that some schools have TOO many donors and sometimes are not accepting more bodies. . .so check into that, too. If there is not a shortage of bodies, then she/you might not feel too bad about NOT donating)
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  • missypiemissypie 17979 replies503 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    My neighbor died of Altzheimers at the age of 54 and it gave her family great comfort to be able to donate her brain for research.
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  • mildredmildred 613 replies73 threadsRegistered User Member

    I have a friend who works for the donor department of the Medical Education and Research Institute in a clerical capacity.

    Here is the link...

    Medical Education & Research Institute :: Home

    Here is the link to the donor department...


    I have learned through my friend that the work done on those who decide to bequeth their bodies for medical science is very much for the common good. There is no hanky panky going on or anything like that.

    I am by no means trying to butt into your business. I was just reading through the threads and all and come across yours.

    Only your mother, you, and your whole entire family know what would be best. And, I am sure that you will all be led down a proper path with everything in a peaceful and loving fashion.
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  • anothermom-w-qanothermom-w-q 1084 replies41 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Thank you for the many thoughtful responses. I do not want to try to change my mom's mind, as I know this is her wish. I am trying to adjust my attitude about it, and I appreciate the links. I am probably trying to gain some control in a situation in which there is no control. Bleah....
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  • missypiemissypie 17979 replies503 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Here's a way to think about it. Your mom has lived for 91 years. She obviously hasn't lived them in a convent or under a rock; she probably has a decent idea of what goes on, but she's up for it if it will help others. Pretty cool attitude!!!
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  • rocket6louiserocket6louise 3301 replies90 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I know that if you donate your body to UPMC in Pittsburgh, they hold a very nice memorial service at Heinz Chapel(it's beautiful)...all the families plus med students come..
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  • ignatiusignatius 3376 replies21 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    My mother died shortly after she turned 91. She had all the paperwork prepared ahead of time to donate her body. Everything went smoothly: the doctor notified the medical school shortly after my mother's death; the medical school took care of all else. The medical school handled cremation when they no longer needed the body and the ashes could be returned to the family or scattered at sea, with the choice being made early in the process. Our family made that decision based on what we felt my mother would want.

    As someone has said, certain illnesses may preclude the option of donating your body. My mother basically died of "old age" - no cancer, etc.

    I don't know that I'm comfortable with donating my body myself, but I admit to admiring the fact that my mother felt comfortable doing so. Her thought - she didn't need her body anymore and she hoped that maybe in some small way her donation could help someone else. Like someone else mentioned, at 91 she wasn't naive; she knew medical students might make a joke or two, but truly didn't care. She certainly wasn't going to get her feelings hurt.

    All in all, I'm glad that Mother made the decision and that the medical school followed through with compassion.

    So sorry about your mother.
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  • pascoepascoe 1 replies0 threadsRegistered User New Member
    Hey guys,

    I am very pro donating your body to science and gave a talk recently about this issue.

    YouTube - TedxBoulder - Mike Pascoe - The Ultimate Gift - Donating your Body to Science

    It may answer some of your questions.

    - Mike
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  • LaderaGrrlLaderaGrrl 1 replies0 threadsRegistered User New Member
    Maintaining respect for the gift while enjoying a laugh aren't incongrous at all. Most people (while alive!) have a sense of humor and would probably have enjoyed the laugh had they actually been there (rather than only in spirit). I should be so fortunate to provide the source for a shared moment of humor when I'm gone! Balance is the key, and it sounds as though your group of fellow students maintained that balance. And a well-made point about providing the source of inspiration for a break-through is well taken. That's why my mother donated her body to the university system in Illinois, and why I'll likely do the same.
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  • VCUSOMVCUSOM 1 replies0 threadsRegistered User New Member
    As a med-student, I dissected my cadaver 2 years ago, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The professors demand respect from students, and no one made any offensive remarks. They don't tell us too much about our cadavers, so we do try to speculate how the person died, but it's done in a respectful way. If one of them had something abnormal, then the students would take turns explaining the abnormality and its causes to other students. We spend a long time dissecting out small structures, and we take great care not to destroy any structures that we don't have to. I remember spending hours following a coronary artery to its termination, which is serving me well now as I'm going into cardiothoracic surgery as my specialty.

    The ceremony at the end was really nice as well. We tried to get family members there as well to discuss all that we had learned and what the experience had taught us. All of the bodies were ultimately cremated and buried in various locations.

    I plan on donating my body for this purpose when I die. Also, I'm going to try to get a lot of organ tattoos on my skin if I know the end is near. (It's always helpful to know where everything should and should not be located before you start cutting, and it will be my final cheat sheet to the med-students.)
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  • DoDoDUHDoDoDUH 1 replies0 threadsRegistered User New Member
    My father passed away at 89 years old after sustaining a closed head injury from a bathroom fall this past April. He dedicated his body to the University of Michigan Anatomical Gift program. He filled out all of the paperwork on his own and set up the donation by himself years before his passing. He told me this is what he wanted. We didn't discuss it very much - it's was a difficult subject to talk about for me and also for him (I think). Last month I received a letter from the university inviting my family members to attend an annual memorial service for those who have donated their bodies to the university. I was thoroughly impressed and moved by the service, especially the medical students who spoke about the relationship to and what the cadavers meant to them. I really got the feeling from them that they understood and cared for the fact these departed people gave them their last gift of giving to help them in their pursuit of healing and helping others. And they seemed very empathic to the fact that the cadavers were previously a living, loving being connected to members of the audience that were now only connected to their loved ones by memories. I was so impressed that I'm now considering donating my own body to the university, which a few years ago, was totally unthinkable.

    I know my father, whose passion in life was helping others, was proud of his choice to donate - I know I am.
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