Basque professor urns too much for comfort

December 25, 1998

A Spanish university professor who shares his office with almost 40 funeral urns is campaigning for a burial site for the ashes.

The ashes are the remains of people who have donated their bodies for dissection and teaching purposes to the University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, since 1980. In the early 1980s, the department of anatomy was so short of corpses that it had to use the bodies of homeless people unclaimed by relatives or ask other universities to help out.

It launched an appeal asking local people to donate their bodies to science. "Without them, it is impossible to teach medicine," said Francisco Do$ate, professor of anatomy. The response was overwhelming. The bodies are cremated after use and most are returned to relatives or disposed of according to the last wishes of the deceased, including scattering the ashes in the sea.

The problems arise when relatives are unable or unwilling to take charge of the ashes. Professor Do$ate believes that burial in a common, unmarked grave is a poor way to repay people who have shown such altruism. "The least the university could do is to provide them with some kind of memorial," he said. "The families believe the university should recognise their contribution."

He thinks a small mausoleum should be built in the grounds of the university which relatives could visit. In the meantime the urns are piling up in his office. "At the moment, there are just under 40," he said."But in future we could be talking about 200-300."

A spokesperson for the university stated that Professor Do$ate has never officially requested a mausoleum, although the matter has been mentioned several times. Rector Pello Salaburu is understood to be in favour.

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