Each year hundreds of people donate their bodies to science in Pennsylvania. And each year, the state board that oversees those donations, the Humanity Gifts Registry, puts on a ceremony to honor those who made that sacrifice.
It’s geared toward the families, who pack into an auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania. But medical students from around the region lead the service. They don’t know much about the lives their cadavers once led, but this is a moment to step back and reflect.
A crew from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine sings a traditional Scottish song, acapella. A Drexel student, Michah Richardson, reads an original poem:
“…Never again will the chest rise and fall with the labor of breath.Never again will the arteries and veins course with the warmth of blood.Never again will the eyelids flutter open as the seer beholds this world.No more will the legs walk, the arms hold, the heart beat.This man – I wonder – did he have children? Grandchildren?What did he do for a living? Where did he work?What was his favorite food? Or color? Or sport?Did he even like sports? Maybe he cheered for the Eagles…”
Vidya Viswanathan, of the University of Pennsylvania, gives a eulogy.
“…Those of us who are medical students, gathered here today, had the great privilege of receiving the last, final lesson of the dying. A lesson taught to us, just us, after death. The lesson that no textbook, no professor, no computer could ever teach us…”
The event meant a lot to David Adler who came in from Yardley.
“My wife was a teacher. She taught for 33 years,” he said, adding that her death coincided with the start of school. “She was off to do what she always did this time of year. She was off to educate. That was referred to several times today, and that’s the way I see it. It just completes the circle.”
The ceremony has been going on for at least forty years through the Humanity Gifts Registry, and it’s a ritual that’s becoming increasingly common at medical schools across the country.
Curious about the history of anatomy and body donation? Tune in to The Pulse on June 3rd.