For over two thousand years, cadavers have been involved in science’s greatest accomplishments, especially in the field of medicine. Herophilus (300BC), the “Father of Anatomy,” was the first recorded physician to have dissected human bodies.
The Otago Medical School has used bodies for dissection purposes since 1875. Initially, the cadavers were sourced from The Benevolent Institution (poor house), and later from various mental hospitals around the region. The first official bequest to the Otago Medical School was recorded in 1943, and – although unclaimed bodies from mental hospitals continued to be used until the late 1950s – altruistic donation has since become the sole source of medical cadavers.
Today, the Department receives more than 100 registrations, and more than 60 bodies (cadavers) each year.
A survey published by Fennell and Jones in 1992 outlined for the first time the types of people who bequeathed their bodies to the School, and their reasons for doing so. They found that it was mainly people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s who donated their bodies, with the dominant reason being to aid medical science and teaching. At the time of the 1992 survey, cadavers were used wholly for teaching purposes yet 84% of respondents considered that their body would be used for medical research. Today the bodies are used for both teaching and research purposes. It is not just medical students that have access, but also dentistry, physiotherapy and science students.
Data about the type of people that register for the body bequest programme today can be found in this journal article: The profile of body donors at the Otago School of Medical Sciences—has it changed?