When Radha Venkatraman died in April this year, she left an indelible impression of an elderly person who thought much beyond herself and her family. When she died at the age of 87, the family did not organise the usual funeral because she had told a good 20 years ago that her eyes must be donated to those who longed to regain vision and her body to a medical college for the anatomy class.
Radha Venkatraman had pledged her eyes in 1993. Her daughter Mangai Krishnaswamy, who works with the visually challenged, says her mother would tell her at least once a day that her eyes had to be donated when she died.
When it became obvious that her mother was sinking and would not live too long, Mangai informed the Eye Foundation. Nearly two hours after her death, the foundation received the eyes that benefited two persons. The family had another wish of hers to fulfil: Radha Venkatraman had also pledged her body for research purposes. She had read an article in 1989 where anatomy students spoke of the shortage of human bodies for research.
“My mother would remind me every day that her body had to be donated for research. She left strict instructions that we should not get swayed by emotions or forget to do it. We honoured her wishes and took her body in an ambulance to Coimbatore Medical College at Peelamedu where doctors received her. We got a beautiful letter from them thanking us for the gift of the body, which they described as ‘the most humanitarian act’,” Mrs. Krishnaswamy says.
Now, the other members of the family have decided to follow in the footsteps of Radha Venkatraman and pledge their bodies too for the cause of medical research.
Body donation is picking up in Coimbatore, says Resident Medical Officer of Coimbatore Medical College Hospital P. Sivaprakasam. “We promote organ donation and body donation at various fora and explain the procedure to the public (see info box) ,” he says. An IAS officer serving in a high position in the Central Government donated the body of his mother who died in Coimbatore, he recalls. And, such donations are coming from very orthodox families who are still capable of performing the funeral as per traditions. Ultimately, the medical colleges and their students benefit.
Eight bodies were donated in 2008, followed by seven, 12 and six in the next three years. The medical college received 10 bodies till Wednesday (August 22). The latest was the body of a 55-year-old man, Masilamani, who died on Tuesday night after suffering a stroke, Dr. Sivaprakasam said. While the Government medical colleges benefit from donation, private institution say they have to pay Rs.25, 000 a body.
“Private medical colleges were allowed to accept bodies earlier. The Government banned this in mid-2005. A representation has been made to the Government to revoke the ban. Meanwhile, we are allowed to get donated or unclaimed bodies at Rs.25,000 a body from Government hospitals,” Principal of PSG Institute of Medical Sciences and Research S. Ramalingam says. Under an open system in the United States, people can pledge/donate bodies or even individual parts to various institutions, he points out. In addition to the option of dissecting bodies, the private medical college has an advanced simulation lab for anatomy class, where students learn on mannequins, Dr. Ramalingam says. According to faculty in both government and private colleges, a donated body is far more usable than the unclaimed bodies. Poor preservation, the long wait for relatives who would not turn up and the procedure to declare a body as unclaimed can render it less acceptable.