Awareness about donating one’s body for medical research has been slowly picking up over the past few years. But experts say a lot more can be done, and the number of donations increased, if measures were taken by the government, medical colleges and doctors to create more awareness.
Cadavers are crucial to learning anatomy, one of the first subjects a medical student is taught.
C.E. Karunakaran, trustee of the National Network for Organ Sharing, said that awareness about body donations was reasonably good, but it could improve with more efforts to reach out to people, as in the cases of organ donation.
Sunil Shroff, managing trustee of MOHAN Foundation, an organisation that promotes organ donation, said they received more pledges for donation of bodies than donation of organs. However, the procedure, which involves a letter of willingness and a ‘no objection’ certificate from the volunteer’s legal heir, was tedious and could be simplified to encourage more donations, he said. He recalled that actor Kamal Haasan too, had pledged his body on his birthday a few years ago.
As of now, only a few private colleges have put in place an elaborate mechanism to raise awareness about this subject. S. Anandan, dean of Sri Ramachandra Medical College said that thanks to their awareness campaign, several people came forward every year to pledge their bodies for medical research.
“Our college’s medical superintendent has allotted a certain amount of time specifically meant for raising awareness about body donation. We use this time to counsel and explain to patients or residents the importance of donating their bodies for research,” he said.
When the volunteer passes away, the institution is informed and they pick up the body once death rituals have been completed, Prof. Anandan said.
He pointed out that around 50 bodies were donated to the institute every year. “Some of these cadavers are allotted for training our MBBS, MS Anatomy and MSc Anatomy students, while the rest are kept in deep freezers for use during live workshops. One cadaver is allotted to a team of 12 or 15 students in our college,” he said.
Dr. Anandan suggested that a consortium of medical colleges could be formed to enable a college that received more than it needed to transfer cadavers to another college.
At government medical colleges too, patients constantly inquire about the donation of bodies. “We explain the procedure to them. We get a letter of willingness from the donor stating that they have pledged the body – this is to prove that they were sane when they volunteered. The ‘no objection’ certificates from legal heirs is to avoid legal complications, especially in the case of elderly persons living alone,” said a faculty member.