Nation

Body donations on the rise at US medical schools

Many US medical schools are seeing a surge in the number of people leaving their bodies to science, a trend attributed to rising funeral costs and growing acceptance of a practice long seen by some as ghoulish.

The increase has been a boon to medical students and researchers, who dissect cadavers in anatomy class or use them to practice surgical techniques or test new devices and procedures.

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‘‘Not too long ago, it was taboo. Now we have thousands of registered donors,’’ said Mark Zavoyna, operations manager for Georgetown University’s body donation program.

The University of Minnesota said it received more than 550 cadavers last year, up from 170 in 2002. The University at Buffalo got almost 600 last year, a doubling over the past decade. Others that reported increases include Duke University, the University of Arizona, and state agencies in Maryland and Virginia. ScienceCare, a national tissue bank, now receives 5,000 cadavers a year, twice as many as in 2010.

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One reason is that religious objections to dissection and cremation hold less sway today than in the past, said Ronn Wade, director of Maryland’s State Anatomy Board.

Also, bodies donated to medical schools are cremated once they are no longer needed, and the remains are often returned to their families at no expense.

As of 2014, a traditional burial cost around $7,200, an increase of 29 percent from a decade earlier, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

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‘‘Funerals are expensive. That certainly has something to do with it,’’ Zavoyna said. ‘‘Of course, it almost has this snowball effect, where you get five people to donate, and then their families tell another 25 people.’’

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