The body broker industry
October 25, 2017 12:12 PM   Subscribe

In the market for human bodies, almost anyone can sell the dead, a Reuters special report: "Each year, thousands of Americans donate their bodies in the belief they are contributing to science. In fact, many are also unwittingly contributing to commerce, their bodies traded as raw material in a largely unregulated national market."

Reuters buys human remains, and learns a donor's tragic story:
Cody Saunders was born in 1992 with failing kidneys and a hole in his heart.


On August 2, 2016, Cody died after a heart attack on his way home from dialysis. Too poor to bury or cremate him, Cody’s parents donated their son’s body to an organization called Restore Life USA. The facility sells donated bodies – in whole or by part – to researchers, universities, medical training facilities and others.

“I couldn’t afford nothin’ else,” father Richard explained.

The month after Cody died, Restore Life sold part of the young man’s body: his cervical spine. The transaction required just a few email exchanges and $300, plus shipping.
How and why Reuters purchased bodies for its investigation:
One broker, James Byrd of Restore Life USA in Elizabethton, Tennessee, offered to sell a cervical spine and sent X-ray samples. Reuters purchased the cervical spine from Restore Life, and later bought two human heads from the same firm. Reuters did not pursue deals with other body brokers after those purchases.

To handle the cervical spine and two heads safely, legally and ethically, the news agency enlisted the guidance and assistance of one of America’s foremost experts on body donation: Angela McArthur, who directs the anatomy bequest program at the University of Minnesota. She volunteered her time.
Body donations: Frequently asked questions
posted by mandolin conspiracy (46 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The way the organization head talks about it -- or talks around it -- puts me in mind of the whole pauper-corpse thing in Victorian England. A (slightly) prettified but otherwise similar exploitation of those who have no other options.

On second reread, the resemblance is even stronger -- I had missed this part the first time around:
“This company is simply going to come and take these bodies,” Street told commissioners. “We’re simply getting out of the way and letting them do what private enterprise does best.”
posted by inconstant at 12:26 PM on October 25 [5 favorites]

I am horrified. What the hell.
posted by agregoli at 1:23 PM on October 25 [3 favorites]

I can't believe no one has come up with the simple solution to this: we need companies that pay your survivors for your body. That way the transaction is above the board, your survivors get a couple of thousand dollars and everyone is happy. Done. No problem. This isn't like organs, where there's a waiting list. Bring the market into the light, make people realize that this is a business.

I suspect that you'll get roughly the same number of bodies, although some people will probably recoil, you'll have others grateful for the thought that they can provide some kind of help to their survivors after death. Or bitter children who like the idea of selling their dead parent. Work with funeral homes and such to avoid the death industry getting up in arms and to make sure that no one is trying to slip murdered people through the system. It's not flawless, but it can be done. These bodies are needed, the companies exist, let people be their own product.
posted by Hactar at 1:28 PM on October 25 [9 favorites]

The way the organization head talks about it -- or talks around it -- puts me in mind of the whole pauper-corpse thing in Victorian England.

You mean, other than these people already being dead, and knowingly, voluntarily donating their bodies?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:28 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]

we need companies that pay your survivors for your body. That way the transaction is above the board

Oh, good. I'm sure that won't be a motive in any murder trials.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:29 PM on October 25 [6 favorites]

What does "voluntarily" mean when, as this entire investigation demonstrates, the donor is misled as to the terms of their donation? What does "voluntarily" mean when corporations are deliberately targeting those whom they know to have little other choice?
posted by inconstant at 1:32 PM on October 25 [21 favorites]

What does "voluntarily" mean when, as this entire investigation demonstrates, the donor is misled as to the terms of their donation? What does "voluntarily" mean when corporations are deliberately targeting those whom they know to have little other choice?

It means they weren't murdered and/or their graves robbed, so the comparison to Victorian bodysnatching is completely off base.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:53 PM on October 25

My mother died destitute, on Social Security, with Medicaid benefits.
She had previously drawn up an agreement to donate her body to a medical school in Colorado. She died in Washington, and the transport fees alone were in the thousands of dollars.
I looked around and found MedCure - which is a 'whole-body donation' service. IMO, they are one of the 'good guys' doing this work.
Mother wanted to be cremated anyway.
We filled out the form, and when she passed, it was simple thing to manage. We had no out-of-pocket expenses, and about 6 weeks later got a lovely handmade paper box with her cremains. The box is biodegradable and so is suitable for putting in a river or the ocean.
Mother had no sentimentality about her body after she was done with it (a sensibility I share), and this seemed both practical and beneficial to others.
posted by dbmcd at 2:00 PM on October 25 [12 favorites]

My father died in 2002, and donated his body to a local medical school. They returned his cremated remains to my mother some time later. This month, she died, and I had the same medical school collect her body. They were extremely grateful for the donation. There was no cost to the estate or survivors.

I read the linked article with some trepidation, but none of the "brokers" mentioned in it were medical schools, nor was there any hint that any medical schools profited from, or were disrespectful to the donors. It seems obvious to me that if you want to donate your body to science, you should deal with a medical school, not with some profit-oriented corporation.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:04 PM on October 25 [19 favorites]

It means they weren't murdered and/or their graves robbed, so the comparison to Victorian bodysnatching is completely off base.

Elizabethan II bodysnatchers are new and improved.
posted by srboisvert at 2:13 PM on October 25 [4 favorites]

"Each year, thousands of Americans donate their bodies in the belief they are contributing to science."

Um... are they not? I mean, someone's getting a profit, but the article didn't seem to say the bodies were being turned into bizarre jewelry or put into compost heaps.

The objection seems to be, "people donate bodies but weren't told how those bodies would be used later." And I get that some people would've object to the specific uses (in which case, the solution is better disclosure laws), and others would've objected to the profit (if the broker can make $5k selling a body to a medical school, why can't the family?), but I'm not seeing horrific scams going on here, just the standard "let's not tell anyone what we're not legally obligated to tell them," with a side measure of "do not cause panic in the grieving family by going into the gory details."

For myself, I'm hoping to find a nice non-crematory donation place, like a body farm; I don't want to be cremated but have zero interest in having my body sit in a box for decades turning into sludge. If we were allowed to bury human bodies in people's back yards, I'd like that; otherwise, I'm happy to turn into training materials for forensic science.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:16 PM on October 25 [3 favorites]

My father died in 2015. He and my mother have always been very insistent they wanted their bodies donated, so when he died, my mother donated his body through a program that sent it to a medical school for training.

It meant all the costs to her were nothing, it meant she had to do none of the terrifying and hard work to find a funeral home that wasn't a scam, and it meant that my dad's remains want to teach young doctors how to treat and help more people.

The school held a lovely ceremony for the families or friends of people who donated their bodies, and some weeks after that, my father's ashes were sent to my mother. We'll be scattering them at his favorite place once we're all back in the same town again, but until then, they're in a tasteful box.

Aside from the odd money aspect of this, I have no issues with bodies donation.
posted by FritoKAL at 2:24 PM on October 25 [4 favorites]

So sorry for your loss, Kirth Gerson.

My mother and I have both already made arrangements for our bodies to be donated to the local medical school. The surviving family has to have a licensed funeral director transport the body, but they'll be reimbursed. I'm not squeamish about what happens to my remains after I die. Heck, I'd volunteer to become Soylent Green if it was really needed.

But I'm revolted that so much donation is being handled by private firms making a profit. For one thing, it means that researchers have to pay more for the materials they need. And the fact that it's unregulated to the point where you don't have to show any kind of credentials to obtain human remains? The mind boggles. Ghouls.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:38 PM on October 25 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised by the lack of federal regulation, and slipshod state-level regulation, but I probably shouldn't be. Regulation implies attention, and the majority of people who lack the money to pay for funeral expenses or to seek out a local medical school for donation also lack the time and money to make sure there are enforced laws on the books. As for the rest of us, well, they're not our bodies.
posted by mikeh at 2:55 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]

Medical professionals have to learn on flesh, sometimes it really has to be human, not pig or another animal. Surgeons go to conferences, a new technique is demonstrated, they need to practice it. I get squicked, but once I'm dead, well, I won't care. Maybe I could be used for tattoo artists to practice on; I've seen some work that clearly wasn't ready for the living. In some(all?) instances, the body is eventually cremated, and I'd love my ashes to go all over the country.

The commercial aspect in which the family is not informed of the value of the body is not cool at all, but if the value of my body could be used to put my ashes on a mountaintop where the winds could take them, okay.
posted by theora55 at 3:05 PM on October 25

I did not click the links yet (but I will) but this is relevant to my interests and I do suggest the book: The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers if it's your thing.
posted by jessamyn at 3:10 PM on October 25 [5 favorites]

Another interesting book, for folks related in the history of this industry, is Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930, which collects photos that medical students took with and of corpses.

It also goes into the (sad and awful) history of how many of these corpses were obtained, often by grave-robbing at African-American cemeteries.

You can see some of the photos from the book here, with an obvious warning that they are disturbing.
posted by ITheCosmos at 3:36 PM on October 25 [4 favorites]

It means they weren't murdered and/or their graves robbed, so the comparison to Victorian bodysnatching is completely off base.

because a business contract with someone who is destitute is never exploitative, by definition, if there is no illegal coercion.

welcome to your steampunk future.
posted by I hate nature. at 3:44 PM on October 25 [10 favorites]

It means they weren't murdered and/or their graves robbed, so the comparison to Victorian bodysnatching is completely off base.

> because a business contract with someone who is destitute is never exploitative, by definition, if there is no illegal coercion.

No, because exploitation and misdirection is a different kind of offense from theft of materials assumed to be safely preserved.

There may indeed be a lot of exploitation going on here, and some of it may be illegal depending on what kinds of misdirection or outright lies are involved. But this not theft; Victorian bodysnatching didn't get anyone's permission first, however coerced. In those cases, part of the crime was the shock to the family members of discovering a desecration; in these cases, the main shady activity seems to be the money-grab.

I'd like to see more regulations around this, but there's a wide gap between "hastily-signed contracts with vague terms pushed onto grieving families" and graverobbing.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:21 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]

I'm reminded of a long-form article in four chapters from a few year back about a gross anatomy class in medical school. The focus is anatomy, but the students are actively taught respect for the body and for the person who donated it.
posted by Miss Cellania at 4:25 PM on October 25 [3 favorites]

With respect to all those who have made the decision to make the Ultimate Gift, as I’ve written here before, I fucking hated gross anatomy lab. We had one body for every three students and I (not a surgeon) didn’t learn a goddamn thing picking apart a corpse. I would not have passed the course if I hadn’t memorized the text book, where diagrams and explanations make sense. A dead body is a mass of grey meat and you can’t tell shit about how it all works by looking at an imperfect, inanimate, diseased and degenerated single version of one. You learn about this shit from studying books and diagrams and then being scrubbed into a sterile field with a very experienced surgeon guiding your hand. Gross anatomy was a sick hazing experience designed to train you to use black humor and walling off your emotional response so you can treat the human body as an object. Our school procured bodies in a transparent and respectful way and held a mass (Jesuit Med school) at the end of the quarter which included students and families of the deceased and I still can’t erase the mental image of the two biggest dumbest frat boys in my class chasing each other around with the severed arms of their cadavers.

My mom, who is naive to the point of nearly stupid, announced that she put in her will that she wanted her body donated to “medical science” though she was adamantly opposed to organ donation in some twisted interpretation of fringe catholic doctrine. When I informed her that “medical science” is pretty vague and opens you up to all sorts of nasty for profit nonsense like this article mentions, she changed it to “medical training.” I’m not sentimental about bodies and could care less what happens to her bones and guts, but then I proceeded to tell her about the shenanigans that happened in the lab on “cut off the head day.” Finally, when she still persisted with starry eyes about the life saving opportunity her donation would provide I simply told her that when people roll in dying to the ER the first thing we do is check to see if they are a cadaver donor and then we don’t work as hard to save them.

And that’s not even touching the military’s use of bodies to study what happens when you blow them up.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:33 PM on October 25 [15 favorites]

Finally, when she still persisted with starry eyes about the life saving opportunity her donation would provide I simply told her that when people roll in dying to the ER the first thing we do is check to see if they are a cadaver donor and then we don’t work as hard to save them.

If true, this is an astonishing breach of medical ethics (and I suspect law) to admit to, and if false, why are you lying to your mother in an attempt to pervert her wishes? When you claim to 'not care less' what happens to her body?

(I suspect it is not true, since I don't know of any public registration of cadaver donations. It's not like there's a checkbox on your DL.)
posted by tavella at 5:39 PM on October 25 [11 favorites]

I lied to my mother because she was unwilling to look into the reality of what happens to donated bodies. Also because her kidneys and heart could do something far more useful than get thrown carelessly into a bucket by a disinterested future dermatologist.

And there might be some unresolved emotional trauma issues about my medical training, but I wouldn’t know about that.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:50 PM on October 25 [6 favorites]

I couldn't agree more with Slarty Bartfast's perspective on gross anatomy lab. It's the worst. It's quite possibly the only remaining aspect of my medical school's pre-clinical lab that isn't problem based learning, unless "who has to the hold hacksaw while we saw through this corpse's skull" is a problem (it's not). PBL has its own issues and certainly isn't the perfect method of pedagogy, but forcing medical students to dissect cadavers is an absurd waste of time and resources that develops no critical thinking skills whatsoever, to say nothing of what it does to students to spend the vulnerable first semester of medical school in a room full of rotting dead bodies while their future esteemed colleagues desecrate them.

I'm not a future surgeon, but I happen to enjoy the OR very much, and the anatomy you see in a living human being bears laughably little resemblance to what you see in a cadaver, even a well preserved one (and my hair reeking of formaldehyde for months evinces the quality of preservation I encountered). I remember struggling to pick tiny veins, arteries, and nerves from the grey mush of a what I can only assume was a lovely gentleman's arm and begging the upperclassmen teaching assistants to explain how anyone could ever perform surgery on a mess like this. "Oh, it's nothing like this in the OR!" And it really isn't. We spent several hours looking for his stomach, which had shriveled and involuted into little more than a leathery baby sock before somehow slipping behind the spleen.

Thinking back to anatomy lab, the one exercise that had real educational value for me was getting to hold a heart, bisect it, and trace all the possible pathways of blood flow using a tiny metal probe. My spatial reasoning is not great and I still think about that heart I held when I'm picturing the heart inside my patient's body. But I didn't have to cut that heart out myself to have that experience. It honestly didn't even need to be a real heart -- it was the structure that taught me something, not its consistency or texture (which, again, were totally unlike a living heart). We have the technology now to 3D print hyperrealistic models. We also have pathology departments absolutely full of old specimens for students to fondle.

I don't really have a conclusion to this except that, like SB, I probably have some unresolved feelings.
posted by telegraph at 6:03 PM on October 25 [13 favorites]

We spent several hours looking for his stomach,

For emphasis, several hours looking for the stomach, just for the educational experience of saying “ok, there it is.” That’s what cadaver dissection is.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:59 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]

I listened to Sam Seder of Majority Report interview a lawyer about this issue recently. Other than selling the bodies to the military for weapons experiments and crash dummies, parts were also sold, like penises pickled in wine to buyers in Asia. Raiding one of the companies was enough to get the FBI agents to stop being organ donors.
posted by Alnedra at 8:15 PM on October 25 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised by the lack of federal regulation, and slipshod state-level regulation

You aren't American, are you? In all seriousness, where you have lack of regulation, you have a magnet for evil.
posted by Beholder at 9:54 PM on October 25 [2 favorites]

OK, so, medical students don't learn anything from working with donated human cadavers. I'm neither a doctor nor a corpse*, so I bow to those with more knowledge and experience.

However, if I understand correctly, you can't get your fancy-schmancy doctorin' license without having done some postmortum dissection at some point.

So, I'm good with my donation. We need good doctors, and if my carcass can be the thing that allows a talented medical student to complete their training and become a physician, then I still think it's worth it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:07 PM on October 25

Finally, when she still persisted with starry eyes about the life saving opportunity her donation would provide I simply told her that when people roll in dying to the ER the first thing we do is check to see if they are a cadaver donor and then we don’t work as hard to save them.

Uhm, what? I spent a bunch of years in the ED and never, ever, ever saw or heard of this. Never heard of cadaver donation, and this certainly doesn't happen for organ donation. This is, as above, a massive breach of medical ethics (and civil/moral ethics!) and have trouble believing this is true. If so, you might want to consider reporting your hospital and/or its providers for having registration and accreditation revoked.
posted by stillmoving at 11:14 PM on October 25 [3 favorites]

Screw that. I’m donating my body to science-fiction!
posted by drfu at 1:09 AM on October 26 [9 favorites]

As someone who's definitely not a doctor, nor have I ever wanted to be one, but I did read Doctor in the House once: I've always assumed that the point of giving over so much time to gross anatomy wasn't to learn anything specific about the human body (that can be memorised from books) but as a psychological and emotional training, so that the student becomes capable of seeing the body as an object and a mechanism. I realise it's possible to learn that intellectually, but expect that the blunt object of the anatomy course does it quickly and effectively and also weeds out the faint-hearted.

Which isn't very nice, but it's not pointless.

Reading the article, I kept thinking what a great episode of CSI it would make.
posted by Grangousier at 1:56 AM on October 26 [2 favorites]

Incidentally, what happened in 19th Century England regarding this stuff was a process rather than a fixed thing - basically appalling incidents like this would happen, laws would be made, social expectations codified and tightened up. As I think we all know, it possibly went a bit far in the end. It's a long time since I saw it, but I think this documentary has some stuff to say about all that. It definitely contains the interesting fact that the first person to be cremated in the UK in relatively modern times was Jesus Christ.
posted by Grangousier at 2:10 AM on October 26

In all seriousness, where you have lack of regulation, you have a magnet for evil.

AKA Capitalism.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:30 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]

we need companies that pay your survivors for your body.

It’s called “life insurance.”
posted by bendy at 3:04 AM on October 26

I've never dissected anything more complex than a chicken, at least in an educational context, but I do want to re-post a counter-point to the physicians in this thread from MeFi's own rumposinc:
"I just came in to say that it isn't only future MDs who take anatomy and learn from cadaver dissection, other healthcare professionals do, as well. I'm a nurse practitioner and the academic year I spent in anatomy with our 'silent professor' (as my two lab partners and I referred to our cadaver) was truly incredible. I learned more from the woman who donated her body to my studies than almost any of my professors in my academic career. She confirmed for me, every time we dissected a new system, how incredible human anatomy and physiology really is and I grew to truly respect her as the year went on and I learned about how she had lived her life by observing how life had worn her body (she was a very elderly woman when she died, but had lived a healthy life).

I have a name for her, in my mind, which I never shared with anyone, but I often still sort of talk to her, addressing her by name, when I am in exam with a patient (things like 'show me where that tendon is again? Right, thanks.'). I think about her often. I think about what I know about her life from learning her body, and how much I couldn't possibly guess. Every time I randomly have a patient who has an absent palmaris longus (normal variation present in about 10% of population) I get this deep, longing pang of what feels very much like loss or grief associated with her--I remember so clearly sitting at her hand on a rolling stool and realizing that she had this variation.

As long as I work with patients, she'll be present with me, there are even little things I learned from her that I've already passed on to other students. I am an atheist and it has struck me more than once how her generosity and post-mortom vulnerability has created a working legacy of her life and how her body lived it. I think it's really beautiful, that brand of immortality, and I grew to find her very beautiful.

You have to take really exceptional care of your cadaver, so that it stays workable, free of pathogens, and easy to learn from. Towards the end, this care became very ritualistic for my lab team, and nearly reverent. She had been a very small lady, and so we had to be so careful. In the end, there is a very simple ceremony students can attend honoring the life, contribution, and cremation of our subjects. It was overwhelmingly emotional and I remember my lab partner reached over and held my hand, and though I almost hesitate to say so, there is a way that we felt like her family. She had shared so much of herself. It wasn't something we talked about, but it was a palpable feeling.

It's been over three years and I think about her weekly, at least. She gave me a lot of clinical gifts. Since I am in ambulatory clinical practice (versus surgery or imagining, for example), she's still my primary example of the inside workings of people. Even when I do read a plain film or do a minor procedure, her anatomy has a way of being a kind of mental overlay of what I am looking at. There are possibly greater environmental impacts to the study of anatomy than plain burial, but I doubt there are more meaningful educational ones. I carry her in my heart, because I held hers."
posted by Blasdelb at 3:48 AM on October 26 [13 favorites]

I mean, the point of these articles kind of wasn't "is it worthwhile to donate your body to science", it's "companies are targetedly misinforming poor people in order to profit off of their bodies, while mishandling the bodies so that they can't even be used for proper research".

Nor was my point "this kind of deception is exactly identical to grave-robbing" -- I was pointing out the echoed exploitativeness in going after those with little recourse -- but sure, whatever.
posted by inconstant at 6:57 AM on October 26 [6 favorites]

Beholder, might want to read the rest of my comment where the implication is that I'm not at all surprised.
posted by mikeh at 7:21 AM on October 26

have trouble believing this is true.

He either lied to his mom or lied to us for effect. It's not true.
posted by jessamyn at 8:06 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]

in our year the song " a good heart these day is hard to find" was what motivated any levity...but beyond that dissection we were pretty much respectful of our donors in every sense

posted by Wilder at 11:44 AM on October 26

He either lied to his mom or lied to us for effect. It's not true.

It can be two things. There's no "might be" about it, the unresolved emotions are quite plain here.

I'd like to assure anyone considering donating their body that the exaggerated comments above are wholly outside the norm, and that the anatomy lab most certainly is a place of tremendous learning* and respect. If you donate your body to a program run by a medical school (to return to the actual topic of this post), your body will be held in high regard. I just got out of lab where the students removed their donors' brains and it was and always is a moving, touching experience that leaves them openly in awe and thankful for the gift they've been given. They were genuinely moved, and they've only just begun to learn those vital structures. (It's also why I'm late to this thread.)

I don't mean to "not all anatomy labs" up in here, but I have never had anyone describe the horrors that I'm reading, and certainly no such thing has ever happened in any anatomy lab I've ever been in. Hacksaws? Rotting bodies? Chased around with severed arms? Hours to find a stomach? If any of these things actually happened, then I lament the execrable teaching that you were subjected to and your shitty classmates. Such egregious teaching practices would quickly get me fired, rightfully, and students behaving in that manner would face expulsion from my medical school (I know--I'm on that committee, and for what it's worth I've never seen a case involving unprofessional behavior in the anatomy lab).

That dissection is called "desecration" above speaks volumes.

Yes, the body will be taken apart. The point is to learn the stuff on the inside. Yes, the bodies that students learn from are "imperfect". So is the body of every patient they will ever treat. Yes, their body donors are sometimes "diseased" and perhaps "degenerated", though I'm not sure what either is meant to convey. A person without disease will either not be dead or have been an organ donor rather than a body donor, and, for similar reasons, body donors are invariable elderly. Yes, formaldehyde is used as a preservative and it doesn't smell great. We want the students to learn at their pace, over the course of ~10 months usually. The preservatives used today are quite mild, btw, far better than when I was a student. And, yes, embalming changes the texture and appearance of tissues. That's really not a large hurdle to learning the structures of the body on a first pass--and I'd rather surgery be a student's second pass at learning the those structures, thank you, or is vivisection being recommended?

Not every medical student likes the anatomy lab. That's fine, I understand and I don't expect them all to. But any reputable school will absolutely treat its body donors with upmost respect and will quickly quash any behavior that even begins to appear disrespectful or unprofessional.

I'm an anatomy professor and I will gladly donate my body to a medical school for students to learn from. Back to the subject, these for-profit entities worry me, though.

*I occasionally hear from doctors that they don't remember anything from anatomy lab--"except the smell" is usually the lame joke that follows. (Never had any say they "didn't learn a goddam thing", though. I guess not all schools teach tact.) To a doctor of any worth, human anatomy has become the wallpaper of their mind. It's all around them, they're just so used to seeing it they don't realize how much they know about it.
posted by cyclopticgaze at 2:44 PM on October 26 [10 favorites]

So Reuters published another installment in this series this morning:

U.S. company makes a fortune selling bodies donated to science
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:07 PM on October 26 [3 favorites]

Oh Jesus, of course doctors don’t know who wants to donate their body when we’re trying to save their life. Even my naive/borderline stupid mother knew I was being facetious. My point is that giving a formaldehyde soaked corpse to a brand new year one med student who knows nothing so they can dig it apart has far more psychological impact than intellectual impact. I learned far more from the idealized illustrations in text books and the expertly dissected specimens of individual organs in the pathology department of the hospital than the grey body under the plastic sheet I was told to attack with a scalpel with no prior knowledge or experience with anatomy. It was just 4 months of horror with little educational value for me and as should be expected, the less introspective among my med school class used this as an opportunity to indulge their tendencies toward black humor and being a jerk off. For fucks sake we held a kegger Halloween party outside the lab which inevitably led to drunk students bringing their non-medical friends and roommates into the lab to gawk at the corpses.

I now have a thorough comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms and structural details of the human body, exactly zero of which came from the experience of dissecting my cadaver and my point is that this is a wholly unnecessary part of medical education in 2017.

I occasionally need to consult my atlas of anatomy in my current practice. It lived with me in the gross anatomy lab and reeks of formaldehyde and ... guts and blood. Every time I have to open it up I’m immediately transported to that basement room 23 years ago and I’m hopeless and horrified. I really should buy a new one.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:17 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]

Also: the kegger and chasing each other with severed arms happened well outside the gaze of our anatomy professors who have the ability to write letters and grades that get us into orthopedic surgery residencies.

My good friend, The Americorps volunteer at my CHC and shadowed me for 2 years observing real Medicine who also babysits my kids and has become a great friend of the family and will soon be an amazing doctor is in her first year of med school. She’s doing gross anatomy now and apparently cadavers are now called “donors” and prior to entering the lab she was forced to watch 4 hours of instructional videos about appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the lab. After their first session, each student was required to do a mandatory hour of behavioral therapy afterward to discuss their “emotional reaction” to the experience. I don’t know if she was just being tough, but her response was “Um, I’m not really feeling anything except that this is a piss poor way to learn about how living bodies work.” So proud of her.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:40 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]

Well, I reiterate: you had terrible anatomy instructors and terrible classmates. Sounds like your babysitter is following in your footsteps. Pity you both.
posted by cyclopticgaze at 7:55 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]

Well I am personally extremely unsentimental about my dead body and my number one concern is just ensuring that it doesn't cause unnecessary harm to the world and that it doesn't cause unnecessary harm to my loved ones. So, donation seems like a pretty good option. Even if med students were just using it as the butt of a joke, well, my only disappointment would be that those students and schools are wasting educational time (and, apparently, an opportunity to instill emotional maturity for the benefit of students' future patients) with poorly designed teaching. Wouldn't hurt me otherwise, & hopefully the world is still becoming a slightly better place with slightly better doctors! But if predatory companies are taking advantage of my loved ones? Oh hell no, they're still alive & that's actively hurting them.
posted by mosst at 11:53 AM on October 27 [1 favorite]

I will say that if stories like this, esp. if told misleadingly, cause harm to the world by leading people to withdraw support for organ donation (like the FBI agent mentioned above), then fuck that grr arrgh.
posted by mosst at 11:55 AM on October 27 [3 favorites]

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