Bioethics News

More donating their bodies to science

More and more people are leaving their bodies to American medical schools as subjects for dissection, according to an article from Associated Press. The surge in donation has been a bonanza for medical schools, which use the cadavers for anatomy classes or for practicing surgical techniques.

“Not too long ago, it was taboo. Now we have thousands of registered donors,” said Mark Zavoyna, operations manager for Georgetown University’s body donation program. Other universities also report increases, although some have actually declined in recent years. ScienceCare, which describes itself as “the world’s largest accredited whole body donation program”, now gets 5,000 cadavers a year, twice as many as it did in 2010.

ScienceCare’s sales pitch appeals to generosity and altruism: “By providing a vital service and a pathway to greater knowledge and discovery, together we can help save lives, advance medical research and education, and improve quality of life for families and the community.”

But other factors are at work as well. The first is the cost of cremation and funerals. Bodies used by medical schools are cremated and returned to families, often at no expense. This is an important consideration when the average cost of a burial is US$8-10,000. The second is the weakening of religious objections to dissection and cremation. According to Time magazine, for the first time in the US, more people were cremated than buried in 2015. In 1980, fewer than 10% of people chose cremation. 

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.