Forum: Do more to honour those who donate bodies to science

Above: Students, with one hand on a cadaver, take an oath to treat the body with dignity. Left: Medical students dissect a cadaver as part of an elective. Such classes can last at least six hours a day in the school's anatomy hall.
Medical students, with one hand on a cadaver, take an oath to treat the body with dignity.

Donations of cadavers are on the rise in Singapore, and this is a positive development (Ultimate gift to medicine, Oct 6).

The usage of cadavers develops the empathy of aspiring health professionals, and when placed alongside their extensive clinical and technical medical skills, leads to better patient satisfaction, lowered risk of physician burnout and a lower risk of malpractice and errors.

The selfless giving of one's mortal body is key to nurturing future doctors and health professionals. As a society, we are thankful.

At present, appreciation and memorial ceremonies are held annually with the medical faculty, students and the donors' families in attendance, as a sign of respect and gratitude.

However, more can be done to extend our appreciation to Singapore's not-so-silent mentors.

In life, they were spouses, parents and children to their loved ones. Each donor has a story and a different motivation for his sacrifice, generosity and altruism; but in death, in spite of their silence, they perform the noble task of mentoring and educating the next generation of Singaporeans.

In Japan, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology writes a personal letter of gratitude to each donor and his family.

We should do likewise and consider recognising their merits and service to the nation with a National Day Award. Their contributions are no less distinguished than that of grassroots leaders, uniformed personnel, diplomats and academics.

It is also my hope that the faculty at schools that receive donated cadavers take one more step beyond the anatomy student's pledge and share with the students the donor's history and a photograph of the person when he was alive.

The school should organise regular appreciation events for the donors while they are still alive so that the students can come to better comprehend the life stories of their mentors and better appreciate the great deal of gratitude owed.

Donors are not simply cadavers; they are social assets of the nation and should be recognised and remembered as an important part of Singapore's future.

Chen Jiaxi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2019, with the headline 'Do more to honour those who donate bodies to science'. Print Edition | Subscribe