I am an Organ Donor
As we stood over the precisely dissected bodies, trying to distinguish between the phrenic and vagus nerves, the greater and lesser omentums, and the left and right gastroepiploic arteries, I inadvertently looked away from my prosection and saw Stephanie (one of the TAs) walking across the room carrying a human head face down against her palm. This sight forced me to recognize a truth about these prosections; these body pieces, picked clean of fat and connective tissue, were at one time all components of a complete, living human being like each of us enrolled in Human Anatomy 101L. When I reached Stephanie’s station I found that I couldn’t concentrate on the facial arteries or the various muscles that help us pucker-up or smile. Instead, I kept staring at the final facial expression of a once living, breathing, elderly man who seemed to have taken a quite unpleasant exit from the living world. And now that man, or at least his head, had ended up on a HA 101L classroom bench being poked and prodded by a complete stranger.
There were three completely stocked human anatomy labs holding a total of six classes every week during the 1992 winter quarter. Spread thoughout each lab room were six different stations displaying six different viewpoints of that day’s featured body system. Also located in these lab rooms, but off limits to us, was “the room behind the closed door.” Every so often, when the door was carelessly left ajar, we did manage to grab a peek of the secret room beyond. Filling every cubic inch (50 ft deep, 20 ft wide & 20 ft high) of the room lying beyond the door were steel gurneys stacked upon one another; upon each layer were sealed plastic bags containing cotton cocoons of corpses waiting to be unwrapped and dissected. Who were these people who donated their bodies? Hadn’t they heard the stories of all the gruesome acts and experiments performed on bodies once “science” got ahold of them? And why, after hearing all the circulating horror stories, did they still decide to donate their bodies?
A couple of days after the “head-experience,” I was checking our lab manual for the date of an upcoming exam, and I came upon a letter entitled “The Donated Body Program.” It was written by the former human anatomy professor, Hugh Patterson, Ph.D. In the short letter, Dr. Patterson recounted his experiences with many of the individuals who had planned to donate their bodies to the program after their deaths. He writes, “As the director of this program, I often speak to these people and I am very impressed with them. In showing the ability to view their own death as an opportunity to give us an educational gift, they give special meaning to the words ‘Oh death, where is thy sting.’” I believe that Dr. Patterson is trying to convey the message that death does not always have to signify finality; by donating one’s body for others to learn from, one’s existence is extended beyond the point when the heart...