Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sanctity of the Dead

Growing up in a conservative setting, I inherited teachings of respect for the environment and life on the whole. If respect is given it shall in turn be received. The miracle of life still amazes the best of us and to respect this miracle was of high importance. We know the joy of bringing a baby into this world and we also know the grief of losing loved ones. Birth and death are aspects of life we accept and its consequences we accommodate. In a different scenario, what if it was not as straight forward to accept?

What if the dead became object and not person?

The scent of formaldehyde snaked through the air as I prodded a preserved, discoloured liver with forceps under the light of bright fluorescent bulbs in a student populated laboratory. At the far corner, the laboratory assistant gave out the ever “limited” supply of surgical gloves. Today yet again we would be confined to the use of one hand as it was one glove per person. As the professor surveyed the room of noisy chattering he explained that the “specimens” were disinfected and we should adopt from now, a more hands on approach.

The assistant was reaching nowhere fast and the professor was just upon our heels to oversee what we were viewing, so with a deep breath I pressed my fingers in. Cold and hard to the initial touch and then with great ease I found myself turning the organ to view the various lobes. Finding the ligamentum teres hepatis was a cause for rejoice and brief smiling until the thought of what I held in my hands further sank in.

I would always be anxious to tell my siblings what I had done and seen but now the stories seemed to shrivel and I no longer shared the passing of my day. These old cadavers that lined the anatomy room seemed like paintings on the wall, their place befitted the setting. My mind always remained estranged with the thought of there was once life in these beings just as I am.

We were told that the bodies were donated for the cause of learning and we should appreciate the sacrifice made by others for the benefit of life on the whole. If the body lived after dying then this would certainly be the closest it came in modern day society. Something so personal and guarded was left open on a bare metal tray in a “human icebox”. Was it vulgar and cruel or just too much thought into something inanimate and lifeless? We define serial killers who mutilate their victims as monstrous and we remain virtuous in our search for knowledge at others expense.

For my brief encounters, every time I felt the hint of a giggle or the thought of frivolity and idle blabber my conscience grew heavy and emotion would cease for a period. This course would certainly test our professionalism in training ourselves to remain objective on what was most definitely subjective.

We always justify before giving true thought, in the name of learning and progression these are the bitter sweet tools of the trade. In order to mesh my thought with reality I always place myself in the shoes that have been chosen to fit the roles. Would you consider this your dying wish for an unseen number of strangers to explore what you had chosen to keep private whilst you were alive? Many can argue the fact that the body remains physical and it bares no real resemblance to the one whom it lent its grace to. However, it still remains a mystery how some people after successful heart transplants have adopted similar practices of their donors. It is even seen in the survivors of the donor who feel an unreasonable and natural affection for the person to whom the heart was given to.

How many of these cadavers were actually donated knowing what their life beyond death actions truly entailed? If God forbid one of us were to die now, we would never picture that our last rites were not carried out and instead our bodies were preserved and strung out to be displayed and explored. I am in no way against progression and I see reason in having practical experience but until they remain as paintings on the wall I cannot feel at ease in violating the sanctity of the dead.

Thus with a taste of wonder, a hint of dissatisfaction, a choice of confession and a sprinkle of acceptance I begin my journey for knowledge.

Blogging with purpose,


  1. amazin experience ..Thx for sharin Doc!!

  2. Your most welcome Eman ;)
    Thank you for reading and commenting
    always a pleasure reading your comments <3