Every November, people gather at a cemetery in Seoul to pay tribute to those who donated their bodies to science
Jesuit priest holds a mass at Yongjin Park Cemetery in Seoul in memory of deceased Jesuits. (Photo: Asia-Pacific Jesuit Conference)
Catholics in the South Korean capital Seoul participated in a memorial mass at Yongin Park Cemetery to pay tribute to 6,000 donors who have donated their bodies for scientific purposes over the past 55 years.
This annual commemoration takes place during the third week of November, a month dedicated to the departed souls in the Catholic Church.
The donation of bodies helps the medical community of the Catholic Medical Center (CMC) and its eight affiliated medical schools to study anatomy, the Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CPBC) reported.
The medical school states that so far 36,000 volunteers have signed up to donate their bodies after death as cadavers for educational and research purposes.
Cadavers received at the CMC are useful for the students to study anatomy and are often used for the production of samples with the consent of the donor.
“Body donation is an act of true love that contributes to the development of medical personnel and medicine by providing live teaching and research opportunities for medical students and clinical professors who want to brighten the world through medical technology,” said the CMC.
The CMC established the Catholic Institute of Applied Anatomy (CIAA) in October 1999 for the effective management of donated bodies through anatomical education and research related to donated bodies and for the development of basic and clinical medicine.
The purpose of various activities conducted at the Institute using donated bodies is to fulfill the wish of all those people who had donated their bodies, which was to “fight disease through disease research through joint efforts with clinicians.”
But at the CIAA, cadavers are treated with the utmost respect by the faculty and students who study them, said Jeong Yeon-joon, dean of the College of Medicine.
“Students in the College of Medicine at Catholic University consider all donors as a family before practicing anatomy and pledge a firm commitment to serve them wholeheartedly before starting practice.”
“We will express our gratitude by contributing to the development of medicine through grassroots creative research and striving to nurture doctors who practice love,” says Jeong.
The students researching the cadavers pray before and after classes on how to manage a donated cadaver.
“I always pray before and after anatomy practice,” says Seo Ye-Na, a sophomore in the premedical department of Korea Catholic University.
In addition, the Office of the Chaplain of the College of Medicine and Nursing holds a special Mass every third Thursday of the month to pray for all those who have donated their bodies in the cause of science.
Even the removal of the corpse is done with reverence and respect rather than treating it as study material.
Each month, the CIAA works with the St. Mary’s Hospital Funeral Home to cremate cadavers that have completed research and study.
The college bears the cost of cremation, including the coffin, shroud, and religious items associated with the process.
The ashes are placed in a wooden box or pot in a temporary storage room within the research institute.
In addition, if a person requests burial at Yongin Park Cemetery, the grave will be maintained by the university for up to 20 years.
Since the start of the initiative in the 1960s, the number of donors willing to offer their bodies for research after death has gradually increased.
From the 1960s to the late 1980s, cadavers were collected by the university through its district office in Seoul.
During that period, the cadavers received were mostly unclaimed bodies of people or people who were not identified.
However, the number of cadavers received was so low until the late 1990s that about 10 students had to perform anatomy studies on a single cadaver.
In 1999, the number of cadavers received increased and groups of 4 to 6 students began to study a single cadaver.
While registrations are welcome, the university states that in rare cases, registration may be cancelled.
This often happens in cases where next of kin oppose the removal of the body, loss of contact, accidental death or infectious disease.