'We need about 80 bodies a year. We get about 60'

June 6, 2003

Donald Farr, the dissecting room manager at Guy's, King's and St Thomas' is a firm believer that those who donate their bodies to science provide an invaluable service to medical education.

"We need about 80 bodies a year, and we get about 60," he said.

"After the body parts scandal at Alder Hey, there was a blip in the number of bodies donated, but things have recovered now."

The medical school gets its bodies from the London Anatomy Office, which serves London and the Southeast. "It is not easy to find out how to donate your body, so if someone rings up our hospital, the calls are put through to me," Mr Farr said. "I refer them to the office, but in the meantime I can explain to relatives what is involved and put people's minds at rest."

Donors come from all walks of life, and the average age of the donors is about 65. "We had a priest last year," he said. "I do find it a bit frightening when the bodies are younger than me - but then I'd call 50 young."

There are guidelines on what sort of bodies can be accepted. Those that have undergone a postmortem examination, succumbed to infectious diseases or dementia are ruled out, as are obese bodies.

The Anatomy Act allows bodies to be kept for three years. "A service was recently held at Southwark Cathedral for all the donors in the region in the past year," Mr Farr said. "It was a service of thanks-giving and remembrance and packed full of families. Students and staff from the medical school also went, and the service was non-denominational.

"We couldn't teach anatomy as we do without the generosity of the donors."

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