QU medical school allows people to donate bodies after death

Katie Langley, News Editor

In the state of Connecticut, a typical burial and funeral service costs more than $27,000, according to World Population Review. To combat this issue, Quinnipiac University’s Frank H. Netter School of Medicine joined the growing trend of alternative death practices almost a decade ago, by offering a place to donate dead bodies to science with the Anatomical Donation Program.

“It’s the ultimate gift, the ultimate donation,” said Jesse Gomes, director of operations for the anatomy lab.

Director of operations for the anatomy lab Jesse Gomes called bodily donation “the ultimate gift.” (Photo contributed by Quinnipiac University )

Choice Mutual Insurance estimates that over 40% of Americans who died in 2020 chose to be cremated over a traditional burial, while 1% used alternative methods, including everything from being launched into space or sent out to sea. In addition, 6% of Americans who died in the same year donated their bodies to scientific research, according to Choice Mutual.

The Anatomical Donation Program has been providing families with a way to honor their loved ones while avoiding the prices of typical funeral services since 2013, Gomes said. Anyone can donate their body, but Gomes said that donors tend to have a special connection to the university.

Though students become well acquainted with their particular cadaver, they never know the name or personal information of the person they were. Students only know the cause and age of the donor’s death, Gomes said. The anatomy lab currently has donors who died ranging from 54-103 years old.

“(Anatomical donation) allows a donor to give back; it allows someone to have a teaching experience well beyond their years,” Gomes said. “(Donors) can teach these upcoming medical professionals, even though they’re not here. They’re using their body.”

In the classroom, professors and students may refer to the cadavers as “donors” or even “silent mentors” or “silent teachers,” Gomes said.

“Students do really get to know, in an intimate way, their specific donor,” Gomes said.

Maria Mastropaolo, a fourth-year medical student, has worked with the donors in her anatomy class. Mastropaolo expressed thanks for those that have donated their bodies to scientific education.

“I as a medical student and human being appreciate that having a human donor is an honor and privilege that I do not take for granted,” Mastropaolo said.

When the anatomy lab receives a body donation, families and estates of the deceased do not take on any cost for removal, embalming or cremation of the body. Gomes said the donors are embalmed and used in medical, nursing, pathologist and physicians assistant and occupational and physical therapy classes for up to two years.

Students mostly complete all their work on one donor throughout the entirety of a course, Gomes said. He said that this can include anything from understanding basic anatomy to learning where medical devices are put in the body.

Once the donors leave rotation, the program covers the cost of cremation and the remains are returned to their families, Gomes said.

(Donors) can teach these upcoming medical professionals, even though they’re not here. They’re using their body.

— Jesse Gomes, director of operations for the anatomy lab

“Every donor that comes in specifies where they’d like those cremated remains to go,” Gomes said. “Some say, ‘well, I want to stay here at Quinnipiac’ and then we’ll keep them here and we’ll spread them out throughout the campus.”

Gomes said the Anatomical Gift Program was inspired by Frank Netter, the namesake of Quinnipiac’s medical school. Netter, called the “medical Michelangelo” by The New York Times, devoted his life’s work to illustrating the human body and its functions, according to Netterimages.com.

“Here we have the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine, and we have donors donating anatomical gifts to the Human Anatomy Laboratory,” Gomes said. “It comes full circle.”

To honor the donors, the program holds an annual Ceremony of Gratitude where students can meet the loved ones of donors and express a general thanks to those who gave, Gomes said. The ceremony is student-run and includes a candlelight recession and artistic performances.

Individuals who are interested in learning more about the Anatomical Donation Program can email [email protected] or call 203-582-7959, according to the university website.