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Student Life

Meet your cadaver

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 11 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2302
  1. Helen Martyn, fifth year medical student 1,
  2. Paul Trotman, resident medical officer2, writer and producer for PRN films32,
  3. Anthony Barrett, medical education adviser for the faculty of medicine1,
  4. Helen Nicholson, dean and professor of anatomy4
  1. 1University of Otago, Dunedin School of Medicine, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. 2Gore Hospital, New Zealand
  3. 3Gore, New Zealand
  4. 4Otago School of Medical Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin

Medical students watch an interview with their dissection body

The anonymity of the cadaver in the teaching of anatomy is a controversial issue. Many Western medical schools ensure that the identity and life of the cadaver is not disclosed to students, whereas other schools, particularly in Asia, encourage the experience of dissection to be as personal and contextual as possible.12

At the University of Otago in New Zealand, the identities of cadavers are usually unknown to the students (box 1).

Box 1: Getting bodies

The University of Otago has been receiving body bequests from consenting donors since 1943, in accordance with the Human Tissue Act.4 Under the act potential donors signal their intention to bequeath their body to the university.

The department of anatomy and structural biology receives about 40 cadavers a year, and the cadavers are used during the second and third years of the medical programme.5 Cadavers are also employed in nine other teaching programmes, as well as for research.6

Medical students are given a cadaver at the beginning of the year and are told only the age and cause of death of their cadaver.

In 2007, a class of 24 second year medical students was interviewed throughout the two years of the dissection course. At the end of the course, the students were shown interviews with their donors, which had been filmed before the donors died.

Potential body donors were invited to take part by HN and PT, and willing participants—two with terminal illnesses—were interviewed and then followed through their journey in the dissection room.

The two donors

The two donors interviewed gave altruistic reasons for donating their bodies and an aim to help progress science and medical education (box 2).

Donor 1 said: “I feel that, not everybody, but the majority of people should want to . . …

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