Today, with the Humanity Gifts Registry, first-year students from all medical schools of Philadelphia came together to pay tribute to the generous men and women who donated their bodies so that we could learn the human anatomy. My dear friends Karthik and Rose presented heart-felt, thought-provoking eulogies, my peers in Music on Call and the Ultrasounds demonstrated humble appreciation through music, and a number of us read 10-12 individual names of donors. I noticed myself clinging a little to the names of the male donors, wondering which one belonged to “Samson,” the man who so profoundly shaped the education of the ladies of table six.
It was a privilege to get to speak with many of the donors’ families following the ceremony, to hear a little more about their loved ones and the nature of their deaths or, more importantly, of their lives. I’m still trying to figure this feeling-process out, but I felt comfort (and surprise) when I learned that many of the family members in attendance are donors themselves–one woman explicitly stated that she was proud to be a member of the registry; another said that donation was becoming a family tradition. I suppose it’s some indication that we’re doing something right in our care and treatment of the donors and their families, that the respect and appreciation we feel is being appropriately conveyed. The heart of the matter, however, is the spread of selflessness; I’m simply overwhelmed by the commitment to education, the generosity, and, quite frankly, the bravery of the donors, the future donors, and their families.
Let’s not take for granted what it means to donate one’s body, a sacrifice not just made by the individual, but by his/her loved ones. It’s not just about not having a person to bury, or going against the rituals of one’s faith (though both are excedingly important, and I do not mean to trivialize either). A few years ago I told John that I wanted to donate my body to medical education. He very respectfully, hesitantly said, “I really wish you wouldn’t. At least, I hope you take anatomy and then make your decision.” Having completely anatomy, I can honestly say that I think I would donate my body, though with some fear, certainly. The idea of John donating his, however, is nearly revolting.
I like to think that these donors and their families knew what a donation entails. I wonder if they were ever given the opportunity to explore an anatomy lab or get an accurate description of learning process. As the eulogists so eloquently addressed, these donors were some of our most valued, selfless teachers who will impact our entire medical education and concurrent/subsequent patient care. But, though stated in ceremony was not as emphasized (understandably), the donors and their families were/are courageous beyond words.