Donating bodies to science: Following the journey of the 'silent mentors'

Over the past 10 months, The Straits Times was given special access to document the journey of donated bodies or medical cadavers – known to students as "silent mentors" – at the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
At the anatomy hall, body bags are laid out on rows of metal tables. Students put one hand on the cold and shrivelled cadaver, and take a pledge to treat these bodies with dignity.
At the anatomy hall, body bags are laid out on rows of metal tables. Students put one hand on the cold and shrivelled cadaver, and take a pledge to treat these bodies with dignity.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Madam Sudesh Kumari (centre) paying her last respects at the cremation of her late husband, Mr Hardial Singh, at Mandai Crematorium on Aug 30. Flanking her are their two children, Gina (left) and Gino.
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.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Bumboats heading towards the Changi Point Ferry Terminal after a sea burial was conducted for the silent mentors.
Bumboats heading towards the Changi Point Ferry Terminal after a sea burial was conducted for the silent mentors.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

They have died. But their bodies remain intact for up to three more years in the service of science. Over the course of almost a year, Sunday Times journalist Calvin Yang and photojournalists Kua Chee Siong and Mark Cheong documented the journey of these medical cadavers.

The four students bowed their heads before a portrait of a teacher they had never met in life.

Next to them stood his grieving widow, to whom he had been wed for 50 years, and their children and grandchildren.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 06, 2019, with the headline 'Ultimate gift to medicine'. Print Edition | Subscribe