Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

January 29, 2013

Cadavers honored in med student dissection lab

GARY, Ind. (AP) — When medical students have finished their study and practice on cadavers, they often hold a respectful memorial service to honor these bodies donated to science.

But the ceremonies at one medical school have a surreal twist: Relatives gather around the cold steel tables where their loved ones were dissected and which now hold their remains beneath metal covers. The tables are topped with white or burgundy-colored shrouds, flags for military veterans, flowers and candles.

The mixture of grace and goth at the Indiana University School of Medicine-Northwest campus might sound like a scene straight out filmmaker Tim Burton's quirky imagination. Yet, despite the surrounding shelves of medical specimens and cabinets of human bones, these dissection lab memorials are more moving than macabre.

The medical students join the families in the lab and read letters of appreciation about the donors, a clergy member offers prayers, and tears are shed.

Family members are often squeamish about entering that room. This year's ceremony was last Friday, and relatives of one of the six adult donors being honored chose not to participate. And some who did attend had mixed feelings.

Joan Terry of Griffith, Ind., came to honor her sister, Judy Clemens, who died in 2011 at age 51 after a long battle with health problems including multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis. Terry said she felt a little hesitant about being in the dissection lab and was relieved that nothing too graphic was visible.

"I was kind of looking forward to coming," Terry said. "This is ... like a closure. I know Judy's not with us anymore. I know that she's dancing on the streets of gold in heaven. She's probably smiling knowing that her body's helping other people, helping these young doctors learn something about her, because that's what she wanted. That's the type of person that she was. She was always giving."

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