Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dr Oz's Cadavers

I recently watched an Oprah Winfrey program in which Dr Oz was explaining, in such an excellent way, how the human body worked. It was a truly enlightening experience. As the program continued, he wheeled out two corpses both standing upright and preserved (he said rubberized) one of a male and the other of a female. These were human bodies which had been donated to science after the individuals had died. There was a wave of an astonished,  horrified gasp from the audience. It was a shock to Oprah and to many who watched and to myself and my wife as we looked on. The male torso had been split from the top of the scull to the bottom of the feet so that the internal bones and organs were revealed. The female torso seemed to be smiling, but her innards were opened outward for all to see.

This eerie experienced prompted me to think, "what if someone recognized the face of either one of these medical volunteers?" "What if a person was known to be some one's brother or mother?"

It reminded me of a true story I had read in a little book called "The Cemetery History Book" by Todd W. Van Beck, "tracing the history of burial and cremation practices from 62,000 B.C. to the present." It concerns John Scott Harrison, who was a President of the United States and who died in 1878 and was buried in the Congress Green Cemetery in North Bend, Ohio. "Soon after his death, a grave robber known as 'Dr Morton' stole the body and sold it to the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati. School officials, who regularly bought cadavers on the black market for use in training medical students, did not realize that they had a 'famous' Harrison body until one of John Scott Harrison's sons turned up at the school on other business and to his horror accidentally discovered his father's corpse dangling by the neck at the end of a rope hidden in a closet." (page 37). Soon after this incident, the state of Ohio made grave robbing a serious crime. (see the website for another intriguing account of this incident.)

My question here is how we should treat a human body after death? Leviticus states that "the life of a creature is in the blood." (Leviticus 17.11) So presumably, once the blood has gone then the life has gone. This is the verse, by the way, that Jehovah Witnesses use to refute blood transfusions and the reason why Jews carefully drain the blood from any meat they are to consume.

Paul, in regard to our bodies, reminds Christians when warning against sexual immorality, "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." ( 1 Corinthians 6.19, 20),

Out of human decency, we should care for and honor our bodies both before and I believe to a lesser extent after we have died. The burial place for our body or its ashes should therefore be reverently marked with our name and the date of our birth and death. We are not just a creature but a human being made in the image of God.

I would also therefore urge the medical community to mark each corpse used in medical research with the identity of its former owner. Dr Oz could have introduced us to the man and woman he was to use to teach us about the human process. Giving one's earthly remains for the benefit of medical science would therefore be accompanied by respect, dignity and honor. I think its good that Dr Oz used these cadavers to explain human anatomy, but I would have been happier to have known who had so graciously donated them to medical science.

That's what I think anyway,

Rev Ron

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