The Faculty of Medicine wants your body

By Rowena Sampang

Interested in making a charitable contribution? Consider donating your body to science. The Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary recently expressed a great need for body donations, due to increasing class sizes. Cadavers in the classroom are used to foster medical learning and research.

"Body donation after death has been in existence at the U of C since the inception of Medical School," said Associate Professor Benedikt Hallgrimsson of the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy. "Medical students, physical therapy students, kinesiology students, nursing students, graduate and resident students will use the bodies for studying basic anatomy."

Students at the U of C who use real bodies for their course work, benefit from a practical hands-on approach. According to Hallgrimsson, accurately studying the human form cannot be duplicated by pictures in texts, advanced computer technology, or looking at X-rays of body parts.

"It really isn’t possible to learn anatomy any other way. The use of cadavers is important for two reasons: the first is variability and second, it is difficult to simulate three-dimensional bodies in any other way," said Hallgrimsson. "Students need to be exposed to different anatomies, using real people to see how structures vary. This is useful for when they have to deal with different patients in the future."

The process for anatomy donation and is quite simple, as handled by the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at the U of C. Those 18 years of age and older interested in making a donation should contact the bequeathal office and fill out a form for donation. Most importantly, people considering a donation should notify people closest to them (i.e., next of kin) and discuss their exact intentions upon death. The Faculty of Medicine pays for body transport and cremation costs.

A service is held every one to two years in Queens Park Cemetery to recognize the anatomy contribution made by individuals.

"A communal ceremony is held with family and faculty, particularly for the families to get closure on their tragedy, for the school to express their gratitude and for faculty and family to meet and get together," said Hallgrimsson. "Those donating their bodies demonstrate an act of selfless generosity to benefit medical research, and we are extremely grateful for it. Donations may lead to advances in areas like orthopedic surgery and are recognized as gifts by people who want to contribute something to medicine."