The study of the human body provides the cornerstone of cutting-edge medical training and research but its delivery relies on a selfless gesture of generosity by people from all walks of life.
Since 2006, more than 299 people have entrusted their remains to UOW’s Body Program in the hope it will not only help produce a new generation of medical workers but also lead to needed cures.
The value of this gift is immense, says Anatomy Committee Chair, Dr Deirdre McGhee.
“It plays a critical role in the education of undergraduate students who will continue on to a gamut of post-graduate degrees in medicine, allied health and medical research, as well as UOW’s own post-graduate medicine students” Dr McGhee says.
“Having this underlying foundation of anatomy can only be achieved from observing the three-dimensional structure of the body, with all the subtle structural variations among individuals of different shapes and sizes.
“There is no substitute for human (cadaveric) anatomy in this educational process. The level of detail and subtle variation cannot be replicated by models or technological programs.”
Coordinator Glenice Maxwell, who registers potential donors and then liaises with family at the time of the donor’s death, says anybody over 18 can apply to register if they fall within the criteria clearly listed on the UOW website.
Most donors are in the older age groups, around 60s, 70s and 80s, and are commonly motivated by a sense of altruism and pragmatism, says Ms Maxwell.
“They want their bodies to be of use after they’re gone and see the program as a way to achieve that.”
She assures all potential donors that strict policies and practices are in place to ensure their remains are treated with the deepest of respect.
Anatomical teaching and research laboratories are situated in a restricted area of the University that only medical and health-related students and staff are authorised to enter and use, and always under supervision.
Ms Maxwell discusses with potential donors the many queries they might have regarding registration but the one thing she can not guarantee is certainty of acceptance by the University.
“That can only be determined at time of death so I always remind them they need to have alternative funeral arrangements in place.”
She says families of donors tend to have a sense of pride over the contribution their loved ones have made to medical science.
“Quite often multiple registrations of interest are made within one family. Husbands and wives register together quite a bit. Occasionally mum and dad and perhaps one of their children will do it together.”
To express its gratitude, UOW holds a Ceremony of Appreciation every two years and invites along families of those who have donated and current registered donors.
Dr McGhee, who is a senior lecturer in the Anatomy Lab, says the Ceremony of Appreciation provides her and the anatomy laboratory academic and technical staff the chance to speak to potential donors and answer their many questions.
“These include details on the technical process of what happens to a donor’s remains after their death, how we teach anatomy and what our students go on to do after they graduate,’’ Dr McGhee says.
“The motto of our anatomy laboratory is Privilege, Dignity and Respect. We instil in our students that it is a privilege to study anatomy using cadavers and that the bodies donated to UOW must be treated with dignity and respect at all times”.
Dr McGhee says the body donation program and laboratory helps students develop a real passion and fascination of anatomy.
“Our anatomy laboratory allows us to teach applied anatomy. The students are able to see discrete structures of the body and simultaneously learn how the structure works, how it can be injured, how we clinically assess an injury or illness and what medical treatment we can provide.
“For example, we are able to show students what an anterior cruciate ligament looks like on an actual human knee joint that can move, and we can therefore show them what its function is, what movements of the knee will tear it, how we move the knee joint to clinically assess if it is torn and how it can be surgically repaired.
“To see and learn all of this on a real knee joint is so much more meaningful than hearing it being said while watching a screen. I cannot express how much of an effect it has on the learning process. These visual and physical memories stay with the students beyond their exams. This level of understanding stays with them throughout their careers.”
To find out more about UOW’s Body Donation Program please contact the Faculty of Science Medicine and Health on +61 4221 3800 or email Glenice Maxwell at firstname.lastname@example.org