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UWI urges public to donate bodies for research

BY KARYL WALKER Editor - Crime/court desk walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 16, 2013    

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WITH the ever-rising cost of funeral expenses, members of the public can opt for a cheaper route by donating their bodies or those of their relatives to the Department of Basic Medical Sciences in the Faculty of Medical Science of the University of the West Indies Mona Campus, for scientific research.

Lecturer in the anatomy department, Dr Roy Thomas, encouraged more members of the public to take up the offer as it would go a far way in assisting the university to produce world-class doctors.

"I would put forth that call that Jamaicans are welcome both in life as students and in death, as their bodies can be used to help students. There is no cost for the donation," Thomas told the Jamaica Observer.

The process of donating one's remains is simple, Thomas said. It entails only the relatives of a deceased person giving permission through a witnessed document signed by a Justice of the Peace. A person who is terminally ill, or who wishes to make an advance plan before giving up the ghost, can inform his relatives of his wish to donate his body or state the wish in his last will and testament.

"Once that permission is given and the body is removed by an undertaker if the person dies at home, then the body will be taken to us. If the person dies at hospital then the process is the same," Thomas said.

At present, established funeral homes charge around $128,000 for the cheapest funeral package inclusive of a casket, embalming and storage, a vault at the cemetery, 100 funeral programmes, the use of a hearse and a newspaper obituary.

Grieving relatives can even get a cheaper package from hustlers who sometimes hang out at hospitals and offer packages for as low as $80,000.

However, the cost of a funeral can rise to almost $1 million and does not include the cost of renting a church hall for around $15,000 if the deceased is not a member of the church, and another $8,000 for a clergyman to officiate at the thanksgiving service.

A grave is sold for $25,000 at the May Pen Cemetery and $68,000 at Meadowrest Memorial Gardens, while it is sold for $78,000 at the Dovecot Memorial Park.

In addition, a cremation with a funeral service can cost up to $95,000 while one which involves a service can cost $130,000. Caskets are also rented for up to $25,000.

When bodies are donated to the university, they can be stored for up to 20 years in the department's storage facility. The department receives about a dozen bodies a year and educates over 300 students annually in medicine.

When the Sunday Observer visited the department last week, two students, Dwayne Campbell and Alana Ramboutar, were seen diligently dissecting sections of two bodies on a surgical table.

Both students seemed quite taken up in their task and when asked how they were able to handle bodies with such ease, Campbell matter of factly said:

"You get used to it. This is what you have to be able to deal with if you are going to be a doctor. There is no space to be squeamish."

Inside the department there are preserved bodies of conjoined twins, aborted foetuses, a human abdomen, placenta (after birth) and other body parts.

There were also bodies stored in a liquid solution in metal storage containers.

Thomas, who smiled as he used his gloved hands to elevate the body of a woman that was donated to the facility, said that he rarely saw students who could not deal the sight of, or handle the dead bodies.

"What we want are good doctors and when you work on a dummy it is not the same as a human body. No book can replace that. I don't think I have ever dealt with any student who didn't have the guts to deal with it," he said.

Thomas, himself a student of the University of the West Indies, has been lecturing in the department for almost six years. He previously taught there in the 1970s before delving into theology.

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