2012-03-16

Transferring Medical Waste - What Becomes of the Cadaver

    Not long ago I wrote a post on the shortage organ donations, donations to medical research and the severe lack of space for forensic cases in Sydney.  To summarise we really lack bodies for research and the major of those who do donate themselves to research are people who worked in the field.  Anatomists, neuroscientists medical illuminati members and so on.  The general public (the majority of users of the research) are not the ones who donate.  Talking to people I find most do not like the idea of 'being hacked appart' or 'carved up'.  They think of it as grose, dirty and destruction of the body which is a part of themselves.  So it is like making themselves dirty or destroying themselves.

    I disagree with this for various reasons, one of which is that it is pointless, and that we want to benefit from research by receiving treatments, surgeries and so on while not wanting to donate to support the research.  The surgeon trained on cadavers to learn how to operate, the anatomist studied cadavers to develop better understandings of the body.  So every time we receive medical treatment we are all benefiting from the research done on cadavers.  Yet we find it difficult or unbecoming to donate to this research.

    Putting my personal ideas aside I thought it might not hurt to explain how cadavers are treated and removed after use.  It is actually one of the more disliked transfers to funeral staff.  They consider it grose, inhumane and just unpleasant work.  Basically a transfer van will arrive at the hospital where the cadavers are.  However the cadavers are no longer 'single bodies'.  They are usually several yellow biowaste bags filled with "a thick soup of bit".  It is not uncommon for a couple of bodies to be mixed together.  A single bag may contain one persons spine and their livers, then another persons hand or brain and so on.  Just whatever fills the bags most effectively is in the bags.

    The biowaste bags are put straight into special coffin.  What makes these coffins special is the placement of the handels, only two in total, one one the head and one on the foot.  This way the coffin can be carried sideways rather than the usual 'foot first'.  As such it can be loaded straight onto the rollers at the crematorium, no turning needed, and they saved on four handels (which are not cheap).

    These special coffins are all cremated with the biowaste bags inside.  How the ash is disposed of I do not know.  But I do know the gardeners consider it to be good fertiliser for the plants.  Next time you are at a crematorium and see the lovely gardens you now know one of their secrets.

    By now you may consider the process as a whole to be rather inhumane.  The cadavers are literally turned into medical waste and disposed of as such.  The only difference being they use a crematorium instead of a waste incinerator.  But really, it is the same thing.  Having seen this process most funeral directors would not donate their bodies to research.  They see how the cadavers are treated as waste and consider it to be grose and inhumane.  Yet despite knowing and seeing this most who work regularly with cadavers (those in the medical teaching/researching fields) end up donating their bodies to research.  They see the negatives of it, but also see the benefits, all the people helped, and consider it quite worth it.

    This difference is interesting and strange.  That those who work primarily with cadavers are likely to donate, while those who primarily work with the end result of the cadavers are less likely to donate.  Perhaps the fact that the researchers get to see the benefits of the research has an influence.  After all, the funeral staff only see yellow biowaste bags being dragged off to a crematorium.

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