Reviews Personal views

Learning to let go of our organs

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7282.373 (Published 10 February 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:373
  1. Derek Roskell, consultant pathologist
  1. John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford

    We don't need to live next to a faulty crematorium to inhale bits of dead people. On an atomic level, every breath we take contains stuff that was once someone else.

    So what claim do we have, during the period between death and atomic recycling, on the physical material that used to be ours?

    For those who believe in literal resurrection of the body the claim is total. The body must be buried complete or it won't work properly next time. But few truly believe this. Even the ancient Egyptians preserved the body's external appearance while removing organs and replacing them with sand and cloth. Throughout history the emphasis has been on preserving appearance, leaving the messy inner details to the gods.

    The body and its components have gained the holy quality previously reserved for relics

    So why should most of us care what happens to our livers when we've finished with them? Mine can go to the worms, or preferably to one of my desperately ill fellow humans who needs a transplant. My friends can say goodbye to the …

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