The University of British Columbia is searching for bodies as the amount of donations for medical research, surgical practice and testing continues to decline.
The UBC Body Donation Program has operated at the School of Medicine since 1950 and has typically received between 80 and 120 donations per year.
That number now hovers between 45 and 50, according to Dr. Edwin Moore, director of the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences and director of the donation program.
“Other universities are also experiencing decline, not all of them, but some are, and we don’t know why that is,” he told Global News. “It’s possibly because we were closed for a short time during COVID and people may not realize we’re open again.”
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When the program is fully operational, Moore said about 1,000 medical, dental, physical and occupational therapy, obstetrics and biomedical engineering students visit each year to learn anatomy. Surgeons also come to practice, learn new techniques, and experiment with new methods.
“Each donation impacts the health and well-being of thousands of people for years to come. It is an extraordinary gift for posterity,” she said.
“The substitute is textbooks, videos and virtual reality, but as every anatomy teacher will tell you and as students will tell you, it’s not the same.”
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Armaghan Alam, a fourth-year medical student at UBC, is one of many who have used cadavers to learn dissections and other techniques as he prepares to become a surgeon. He also helped organize an annual memorial service for body donors to thank them and show respect for them and their families.
“It really is a unique experience and you can’t get the same experience working with a textbook or online resources,” he said of working with donations.
“I’ve had a pretty longitudinal relationship and learning experience with corpses, and I think over that time, I’ve really come to appreciate how much that experience can’t be made up for in any other way.”
Cadavers are many students’ “first experience” of interacting with a patient, he added, teaching them not only anatomy but also how to show “appropriate respect” to the people and bodies they interact with.
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All accepted cadaveric donations remain in the care of UBC for six months to three years, unless an individual has specified otherwise on their consent form.
After use, the university cremates the remains and notifies relatives to collect the ashes.
More information on how to register as a body donor, or consent after the death of a potential donor, is available at program website.
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