What happens when you donate your dead body to science?

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At universities across Australia, medical students are able to examine and dissect human bodies thanks to people opting to donate their bodies for science rather than burial or cremation.

“We actually call all of our cadavers ‘patients’ because they're the first line for the students in terms of their experience of patients,” says Hannah Lewis, an anatomical services specialist at ANU.

“So when a donor passes away, their cadaver is collected by a funeral company and the funeral company delivers it directly to me within preferably 12 hours,” says Hannah. “We embalm the body and then the body sits for about six months until they're ready for sectioning, and once they've been sectioned they're dissected by either myself or students.”

“The donors are amazing people, they really are,” says Dr Riccardo Natoli, ANU’s Body bequest coordinator and vision researcher.

The donors are amazing people, they really are.

“Some people really want to know everything… and others really want to keep it at a distance; so my job is really to understand what the individual wants and to provide them with that level of information.

“What we do try and say it's really important to let the next of kin know what your intentions are when you die and open that conversation.

“Death is not something we like to talk about but actually it's what makes life really special. If there wasn't an end, we would just take life for granted.”

If there wasn't an end, we would just take life for granted.

Barry Hooker has decided he wants to donate his body. “It's mine. I'm dead. I'm gone. It's an empty shell. It can be used, so that's the way I look at it.”

When Barry announced his plan, his partner, Virginia Hooker, didn’t share his cool detachment. “I found it very confronting. To support him to do that would be for me to take a different view of his death.”

But Virginia came around to Barry’s position. In fact, she too now plans to donate her body for science. 

Keen to learn more about body donation programs? Most universities that offer medical courses will have a body donation program, so get in touch.   

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