Few takers for body donation

Even medical students shy away from donating cadaver, used for studying dissection

Even though cadaver donation is supposedly “noble” for the purpose of teaching in the medical fraternity, medical students are not driven to register as voluntary donors in their youth for this purpose.

“It is sad that not one medical student is registered with us. We of course have senior doctors registered as volunteer donors. When I raised the issue at a seminar recently, a young student told me you wouldn’t donate either if you saw what we do to the bodies while training,” says Alok Kumar of Dadhichi Deh Dan Samiti, an NGO working for body donation.

“I told the student I have donated my parents’ bodies for the same cause,” he adds.
Body donation is a cause of which mostly the “elderly” are convinced about. Of the 50 currently registered donors at Maulana Azad Medical College, over 75 per cent of the individuals are above 60 years of age.

“The rest are over 40s. We have one donor in his mid-20s,” says Dr Dinesh Kumar, Professor of Anatomy and incharge of Embalming Unit, Maulana Azad Medical College.
Currently, registered donors remain the main source of cadaver donation in medical colleges. The ideal cadaver to student ratio for teaching purpose is 1: 10, say doctors.

“All the bodies currently have come from voluntary donors. The other source of cadavers is when we receive unclaimed bodies from mortuaries, which is facilitated through the police,” says Dr Kumar.

The capital has seen over 2,900 deaths of unidentified persons this year. However, medical colleges have received few unclaimed bodies for educational purpose.
An unclaimed body can be given to a medical college if the cause of death is natural and no foul play is involved in the death of the individual.

The police has to also issue a certificate in this regard.
“Often there is lethargy on the part of the police to facilitate cadaver donation to medical colleges. Earlier, this was brought to the notice of the police. However, little has changed.” says Kumar.

“A considerable number of bodies can be given to the medical colleges for the noble purpose of education. More facilitation of bodies would ensure that medical colleges do not grapple with shortage of bodies,” he adds.

Part of curriculum
Students studying medicine usually handle cadavers for dissection in the first year of their curriculum. 

“Later, during their post-graduation, doctors again need to revise the anatomy by practising on cadavers before they operate on individuals,” says Dr Kumar.

A senior official in the Health Department, however, ruled out any shortage of cadavers in medical colleges.

Besides registered donors, medical colleges also receive bodies from NGOs and impromptu donations from families. However, there is often a disproportionate distribution of donation across medical colleges.

“It happened so two years back that we had a surplus of bodies. When a family is willing to donate a body out of goodwill, a hospital cannot refuse. So we counselled them that the body be donated to Safdarjung Hospital for the same purpose,” says Rajeev Maikhuri, Senior Organ Transplant Coordinator, ORBO, AIIMS.

“People are often not aware of colleges which are facing acute shortage in terms of cadaver donation,” he adds.

Currently, Safdarjung Hospital said there is no shortage of cadavers. “We are meeting the necessary requirement,” says Dr Rajpal, Medical Superintendent, Safdarjung Hospital.

Also, there is no assurance that a medical college would receive the body of every registered volunteer donor.

“It is difficult for families to overcome social pressure in donating a body. It has so happened that we have sent a vehicle but the relatives have retraced their steps at the last moment. Also, people are emotionally overwhelmed during this time,” says Dr Kumar.

Moreover, a college also has to receive the body of a person suffering from any communicable disease which would put the students or technicians handling it at risk.

This is one reason why colleges screen unclaimed bodies more intensively before receiving them.

Colleges also show “less interest” when contacted for body donation even though they claim shortage otherwise, says Kumar.

“The college has to take initiative in immediately pressing its resources to procure the body. They should make the process hassle-free for the donor’s family like obtaining the no-objection certificate in a medico-legal case from police or giving a vehicle for the transporting the body to its campus.”

“You never refuse a body if a family wants to donate it. It happens so that we might receive several bodies in six months and none at all in the next six. These are embalmed for the next batch given that the quota of the current batch is met,” says Dr Kumar.

In the absence of cadavers, medical colleges often use simulators to create the same effect.

“At AIIMS, students are also being taught human anatomy digitally. Simulator is one way of doing it,” says Dr M C Misra, Director, AIIMS. However, teaching through cadaver cannot be replaced through a simulator, he adds.  

To overcome the disproportionate distribution of cadavers across medical colleges, there needs to be more networking and coordination among the institutions, say doctors.

Outreach programmes and public lectures can also help raise the awareness level on cadaver donation among the general population, they add.

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