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Donating your body to science

Body donations offer invaluable lessons in anatomy lab, helping UC advance medicine.

At the outset, many of the callers are hesitant, even jittery — they are confronting their own mortality to discuss a most daunting topic: donating their bodies to science.

“It is very scary to talk about one’s death,’’ says Andrew Corson, director of the UC San Francisco Willed Body Program. “We try to talk honestly and openly and plainly to people. We want people to feel good about making this decision. It is such an incredible gift they are making.’’

Since the earliest days of medicine, the complex study of human anatomy has been an integral part of health science training and research. For more than 60 years, the UCSF Willed Body Program has overseen the donation of bodies for medical education and research.

“The need is great, and the gift is valued and honored,’’ says Corson, who has been with the program for 11 years, the last five as director. “The experience of working with the cadaver is extremely valuable — years later, many physicians talk about the important lessons they learned in the anatomy lab. For many medical students, the cadaver in the anatomy lab is the first dead person they’ve seen. Often they approach the cadaver with great trepidation, but soon that is replaced with a great compassion and appreciation for the donor.’’

The University of California has four other anatomical donation program locations — at UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA and UC San Diego. Altogether over the last five years, the various sites have received more than 1,000 donations annually, said UC Director of Anatomical Services Brandi Schmitt.

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Related link:
New anatomy learning center prepares next generation of clinicians (with slideshow and video)

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