Not so many years ago major medical schools were the only ones who used donated cadavers in the classroom labs. I can remember helping some very socially conscious folks in getting their bodies accepted, prior to death, at the University of Minnesota Medical School and at the University of North Dakota Medical School. The schools would pick up the bodies from our place of business, or we would drive them to their labs, the bodies would be used for about one year, then cremated by the school, and returned to the family members. Many of these families would contact us to help them with a burial of the cremains at this time.
It didn’t happen often, but it happened. I think part of the reason that it did not happen often is that the bodies were eventually cremated and in 1985 we had a cremation rate of less than 10% of our business. As cremation grew in popularity so did, at least in our area, body donation for anatomical study.
I have never seen a statistic, but I am under the impression that anatomical gifting has grown as a percentage of disposition at a higher rate than most of us would believe.
I ran across an article today that now even schools such as Elon University in North Carolina – which does not even operate a medical school – has a program for accepting bodies for anatomical studies by its undergraduate students. You can read about their program here. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not against donating one’s body for scientific purposes — I just am under the impression that it happens more often than we think.
My question, for the sake of this article is, “What is driving the increase?” I think that there are several factors in that answer. First and foremost, I think the growth of cremation has given the choice to those who several years ago favored earth burial. Secondly, I think that there is a great advocacy out in society that rightfully advocates that the decision is in the public good. Third, I’m not so sure that all donor families know the logistics behind their loved ones donation as the Reuters expose of the “Body Brokers” this fall indicated. Finally, I think a backlash against what can be perceived by the public as a “high cost of dying” is another reason.
Our goal, as funeral directors, when potential clients ask about this decision should be to give those consumers factual information on the subject and possibly to let them know what we perceive to be the pros and cons on the subject. Should a client family choose this option we, as professionals, should help them through the process regardless of the financial outcome to the funeral home. Being a professional and the death care expert in our own communities demands that we make sure that these well-intentioned folks are not taken advantage of by a for profit concern. It is just part of being “Professional”.