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What we need is a body of change

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Sahana Charan

Superstition, religious beliefs come in the way of cadaver donation

Bangalore: M.N. Prakash, a senior member of staff at an educational institution, and his wife, Vijayalakshmi, have pledged all their organs and their body to be used for medical purposes after their death.

“After our death, if the body is cremated or buried, it will not be of any service to mankind. Donating one’s body is a noble gesture and can help in the advancement of medicine and science,” said Mr. Prakash, who has a message on his desk at his workplace asking everyone to come forward for voluntary donation of their bodies.

Radical idea

But not everyone is so altruistic. Voluntary cadaver donation for medical and research purposes is still a radical idea here, and senior medical professionals say that even though many people may register themselves for the purpose in medical colleges, very few bodies are actually received. A senior professor at the government-run Bangalore Medical College (BMC), which is affiliated to five hospitals in the city, said even though the ratio of medical students to cadavers should ideally be 1:10, in many private colleges the ratio is one cadaver per 25 to 30 students because of shortage.

“The situation is even worse if you take into account dental and Indian systems of medicine colleges. At BMC, we get around one to two cadavers a month, but most of them are not through voluntary donation. We have a voluntary donation programme for those who want to pledge their bodies, but we hardly get one body in one or two years. Students mostly have to depend on unclaimed bodies,” he said.

He added that because of superstitions and religious beliefs, people may not come forward to donate their bodies or, even if they are progressive enough, their families may be reluctant to hand over the body after their demise.

According to Roopa Ravindranath, Professor and Head of the Department of Anatomy at St. John’s Medical College, “Since 1977, around 360 people have registered with us, and in the last two years we have received around 10 bodies that were donated voluntarily.

But even now there is need for awareness on voluntary cadaver donation.”

Many people may fear that their bodies may not be treated with dignity after their death and are discouraged to donate. “At St. John’s, our Director conducts a small prayer service for all bodies received here, which includes readings from scriptures of at least four religions at the beginning of the MBBS course, on All Souls Day and at the end of the course,” she said.

S. Kumar, Principal and Dean of M.S. Ramaiah Medical College, said that in the past three years since the voluntary donation programme started, around 350 people have registered for donation and around 30 bodies were received.

Return gesture

“Since it is a noble gesture by these people, we convey to them that we care. We invite them for all the cultural and sports events in the college to ensure a sense of belonging and also conduct free annual medical camps for them,” Dr. Kumar said.

He added that earlier the hospital used to get unclaimed bodies for dissection purposes, but that stopped following a Government Order that private colleges should not be given unclaimed or destitute bodies, and only government colleges were authorised to get such bodies. “Now is the age of simulation. In a scenario where bodies are scarce, students will have to dissect through simulation and that is where not just India but the world is also heading,” he said.

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