Donating my Body to Science: The Ultimate in Recycling

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When the time comes, my husband and I are donating our bodies to science, writes Joanna Hall.

No one wants to think about dying, but as Benjamin Franklin said in 1789: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” While many people avoid the subject and do little or no end-of-life planning for when the time comes, my husband and I have clear plans for what happens to us. We’re donating our bodies to science.

The decision came about nearly six years ago when my dear friend Patsy passed away after battling acute myeloid leukaemia. In the days after her death, I learned that she wasn’t having a funeral. Instead, she had donated her body to the Gold Coast’s Griffith University for medical research. I thought the idea was brilliant, and not just because I hate funerals.

Being part of an Irish Catholic family, I respect that what happens to a human after they take their last breath is a big deal for many people. In Ireland, death is honoured with multiple traditions from stopping clocks at the time of death to prevent bad luck, to holding a wake with an open coffin so people can pay their respects. And God forbid anyone dares stand between the spirit of the dead and an open window, as they will block their exit and be cursed forever!

But despite my Catholic upbringing, I walked away from the Church in my mid-teens for many reasons. For years I haven’t thought much about religion on any level, but if I’m pushed into a pigeonhole it would be as an atheist. But measuring atheism can be complicated. Some people who say they are atheists also believe in some kind of higher power or spiritual force, like I do, while others still identify with a religion such as being Catholic, but they don’t believe in God.

I embrace the words of Teilhard de Chardin, which have been quoted by many motivational speakers including Anthony Robbins and Dr Wayne Dyer: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” I believe that we all have a soul, essence, or energy (including animals), and after we die it leaves the physical body to disappear into the universe. Therefore, we don’t die but we cease to exist on a physical level.

When I looked into donating my body to science, I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t thought of it before. After all, I’ve been a health writer for over 30 years, I’m a strong advocate of organ donation, and I don’t have any attachment to my physical body concerning what happens after I die. So, when I eventually kick the bucket, I thought, what a great idea to give medical students, the doctors of the future, something to work with and learn from! 

I was reminded of the first time I allowed a medical student to learn from a real patient. I was barely 20 and I’d been living in Mexico City with my first husband for about a year. We were preparing to return to London and needed a health checkup. For my part, it was essential as I was thin even though I was eating well, and I had loose stools from what turned out to be intestinal parasites. I was diagnosed by having an endoscopic camera inserted into my rectum, but in the spirit of helping future doctors even then I agreed to have a student perform the procedure on me with supervision.

Fast-forward to early 2017 and when my husband and I were updating our wills after moving to Queensland, we both decided to donate our bodies to science after death. We contacted Griffith University to get information, we completed the necessary legal paperwork, and we made sure our request was clearly stated in our wills. When the time comes, I know that the decision will raise eyebrows among some of my family, and we may be accused of denying our nearest and dearest a funeral. But like those who choose to follow certain traditions and ceremonies in death, we both feel strongly about taking a different approach. And if by doing it we help to shape the careers of a group of future doctors, all the better.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your physical or mental health, seek immediate medical attention.


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