Most of us do not want to think about our final demise. But we are all going to die, it is a side effect of life. Recently, I listened to the book Death’s Half Acre about the body farm in Tennessee, written by the creator of it Dr. Bill Bass. I followed it with a book on what coroner’s do and how death in the US works.
Death is expensive. The average cremation in the US is $1,000. The average burial is $8,000. But it costs $0 to donate your body to science. And your body is needed. I listened to a lecture recently on modern medicine and most doctors never get to see a human skeleton these days; they are insanely expensive because they just don’t have them available to buy.
In the 1800s, criminals that were hanged and paupers could be donated to science in the US when they were dead. That’s not the case anymore. If you are too poor to pay for a burial these days (let’s say you’re homeless), they cremate you because your approval is required to donate your entire body to science.
It is just as difficult to get a cadaver for a medical school in 2010 as it was in 1610 when it was still illegal. Illegal grave robbing comes with harsher penalties and is more difficult because of the digital world we live in.
Now, what happens when you donate your body to science. They will A) the company picks up yours or your loved ones body. B) They harvest all viable organs and donate them. C) Your body is evaluated for what it would be best for. For instance, I have incredibly dense bones. In my 20s, I had a bone density scan because one of my maternal aunts had osteoporosis. After my doctors got the results, my primary care doctor said “You can literally tell people you are big boned. I have never had a woman with bones as dense of yours. Not only will you never be in danger of osteoporosis, I have a hard time imagining you breaking one without a car hitting you.” When I got close to 39, my gynecologist looked at me and said “Normally, at your age, I start telling my patients to start taking bone health supplements. In your case, please don’t. I still remember getting your bone density scan and the last thing you need are supplements for bone health.” The point being, I would probably make a really great disarticulated skeleton. My mom also has good bones, not as good as mine, but I could see her as a disarticulated skeleton as well.
Other things they can do with you; cadaver dissection, give you to someone like Dr. Bass and the Body Farm for use in decomposition experiments, and there is more than one Body Farm these days. For example, there’s a forensics body farm that examines how fire destroys bodies.
I read somewhere that US medical schools need approximately 500,000 cadavers a year for different things but only get about 50,000 since India no longer exports cadavers. If you aren’t wealthy enough to endow a trust, then donating your body to science is literally your last chance to give back.
And besides, burials aren’t permanent. No cemetery in the world that we know of, is currently intact and older than 350 years. As cities expand, cemeteries get moved, this means digging up all the bodies, putting them in new boxes, and transporting them to their new “final” resting place.
I’ve left instructions for my husband, niece, nephew, and great nephews to donate to a bench or tree in a park under my name after donating my body to science. I see no point rotting in the ground or being cremated and stuck in an urn, when having my skeleton available for study might help a doctor be better at his job or might help the body farm figure out the time of death of a murder victim.