On Monday 5 December the documentary My Dead Body was aired on Channel 4. This programme included footage showing the dissection of a recently deceased individual who had donated her body to the Brighton and Sussex Medical School.
We, as senior anatomists working across the five medical schools in Scotland, supported by His Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy in Scotland, wish to distance ourselves from this programme as it does not represent the reality of body donor programmes run by Scottish universities. Importantly, this event took place at an English medical school, where the legislation covering bodies donated to medical science is distinct from that in Scotland. The Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006, under which all Scottish body donor programmes operate, specifically prohibits the recording and distribution of such dissection activities.
Thus, the public in Scotland should be reassured that all individuals who so generously and selflessly donate their body to medical science will not be used in this way. Body donor programmes remain at the heart of medical and biomedical training in Scotland, and we would like to put on public record our ongoing gratitude to the donors and their families.
Prof Scott Border, Head of Anatomy, University of Glasgow
Dr Enis Cezayirli, Head of Anatomy, University of St Andrews
Prof Gordon S Findlater, His Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy in Scotland
Prof Thomas H Gillingwater, Chair of Anatomy, University of Edinburgh
Prof Simon H Parson, Regius Chair of Anatomy, University of Aberdeen
Prof Tracey Wilkinson, Cox Chair of Anatomy, University of Dundee
Why donate your body?
Thank you for expressing a wish to donate your body to the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews after your death. It is a most generous decision and we are conscious that it will not have been taken lightly; we are extremely grateful.
Anatomical knowledge is an important cornerstone of medical training. Knowledge of the structure of the body is essential to ensure patients have good medical care, and undergo safe clinical procedures. It is also fundamental in the interpretation of medical images.
Your donation will contribute to the education of the doctors of the future, current doctors undergoing postgraduate training, and other healthcare professionals.
The body donation process explained
The first step is to contact the School of Medicine to have an information pack sent in the post. Read through this information carefully, as it is important that you give informed consent to donate your body for medical/anatomical examination. The Declaration of Bequest Form is carbonised; it cannot be sent electronically. If you decide to proceed, the top copy (white) of the Declaration of Bequest Form must be signed by you and by a witness who is witness to both the signature and the content (yourself and the witness must sign and date the form on the same day). You should then:
- Return the top (white) copy to the bequest coordinator at the School of Medicine who will then enter your name on the Bequest Register.
- Keep one pink copy for your records.
- Give the other pink copy to your next of kin or executor.
Once the Bequest Coordinator receives your Declaration of Bequest form, your details will be securely recorded on the register.
We strongly advise that you discuss this matter with your next of kin or executor. If your next of kin and family are very much against the idea of you donating your body to the University of St Andrews, it may become difficult to proceed with the donation.
Change of mind or change of circumstance
At any time, you have the right to change your mind about donating your body or about the decisions in your bequest. If you wish to withdraw, your details will be deleted from the Bequest Register. This is best done in writing.
It is extremely important to let us know if:
- You change your name or address.
- Your next of kin changes their name or address.
At the time of death
The doctor, nurse or carer in attendance at the time of death should be made aware of the donor’s wishes. They, or the next of kin or executor, should then contact the bequest coordinator as soon as possible after the death has occurred. The bequest coordinator will be available on 01334 463596 during normal office hours (9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday). At all other times, a recorded message will give the appropriate number(s) to call. The School of Medicine is closed between Christmas Eve and the early part of the New Year. However, should it be necessary to contact the School of Medicine during this period, a contact number will be given via the recorded message.
After gathering all the necessary information, the School will advise whether or not the School of Medicine is able to accept the donation. If the death occurs in hospital, the body will be held in the hospital mortuary while this decision is being made. If the death occurs at home or in a nursing home, it is advisable to turn off all heating and open the windows to keep the room as cool as possible. If the University is unable to accept the donation, the responsibility for arranging a funeral will rest with the next of kin or executor.
Reasons for the School of Medicine not to accept a body donation
It is important that both you and your next of kin or executor understand that regrettably we cannot guarantee that a bequest will be accepted. In these circumstances the responsibility for arranging your funeral will rest with your next of kin or executor. This does not diminish the importance of your generous offer to donate your body.
At the time of death and after gathering all the necessary information, we shall advise your Next of Kin/Executor as quickly as possible whether or not the School can accept your body. The following reasons may be a cause for refusal (this list is not exhaustive):
- The School of Medicine may already hold sufficient bodies to meet current requirements.
- Post mortem examination is required (or any other referral to the Procurator Fiscal).
- BMI out with the normal range (significantly underweight or overweight).
- Organ donation, if organs (other than the corneas) have been donated at the time of death.
- Recent major surgery or any open wounds such as ulcers or bedsores.
- Disseminated cancer (cancer which has spread to many areas of the body).
- Advanced oedema (swelling of the arms, legs or trunk).
- Some infectious diseases (e.g. hepatitis, septicaemia (infection of the blood), HIV, MRSA, C. difficile).
- Peripheral vascular disease (“extensive hardening of the arteries”).
- Certain types of chemotherapy.
If the School of Medicine is able to accept your body
Once the donation has been accepted, and after the Death Certificate has been completed, the University will make the necessary arrangements (in consultation with the next of kin or executor) to transport the body to the School of Medicine. Please note that we can only bear the cost of transporting the body to the School of Medicine from a location within Fife or Kinross.
The next of kin or executor should register the death with the local Registrar (an appointment can be made by telephoning the Fife Registrar at 03451 550077). After the death has been registered, if possible, the next of kin or executor should then arrange a convenient time to bring the forms received from the Registrar (Form 14 and the Full Extract of the Death Certificate) to the School of Medicine and also to complete other necessary documents.
Costs involved with body donation
Please note that your family or estate may have to bear the cost of transporting the body to the School of Medicine from a location out with Fife or Kinross and also if the body is accepted by one of the other medical schools if we are unable to accept. There will be no further costs to the family.
How will my body be used by the University?
If you donate your body to the University of St Andrews you will be treated with the greatest respect. Your body may be used for one or more of the following purposes.
- Anatomical examination – this term describes the teaching of the structure and function of the human body to medical students, doctors, or healthcare professionals.
- Research – this term describes studies which aim to improve the understanding of the human body. These may in turn inform the development of new clinical procedures.
- Education and training – this term describes the training of healthcare professionals, usually those learning clinical techniques, as opposed to anatomical examination.
The School do not normally conduct research into specific diseases or medical conditions. It may be useful to take digital images of parts of your body for teaching, training or research purposes. If you consent to this, you will not be identifiable in these images. If you do not wish to consent to the use of such images you may indicate this on the Declaration of Bequest Form.
Length of retention of a body as an anatomical bequest
The Anatomy Act permits the University of St Andrews to retain your body for up to three years after death. It is important that your next of kin or executor is aware of this. The School of Medicine may also wish to retain parts of your body for a longer period, to be used for further education and training. Question two on the Declaration of Bequest Form allows you to choose whether to allow parts of your body to be retained beyond the three-year period. The retained parts will be cremated separately and at a later date from the rest of the body.
Release and cremation of donated bodies
An individual cremation is arranged for each donated body at Kirkcaldy Crematorium. The ashes may be scattered in the Garden of Remembrance or collected by the next of kin or executor. This is discussed with the next of kin or executor at the time of death.
The School will not contact your next of kin or executor regarding your cremation, unless a request has been made for your ashes to be returned. In these circumstances we will contact them to inform them when they can collect your ashes from Kirkcaldy Crematorium.
Annual Memorial and Thanksgiving Service
The University holds an Annual Memorial Service in April or May each year to honour those who have donated their body to the University of St Andrews in the previous year. This service is held in the St. Salvator’s Chapel in North Street, St. Andrews and refreshments are served afterwards. The next of kin will be sent an invitation approximately six weeks before the service. Please note that the Memorial Service is not linked in any way to the cremations or burials, which normally take place at a later date.
Book of Remembrance
In the Medical and Biological Sciences building, there is also a Book of Remembrance that is available to the general public. If you would like to see the Book of Remembrance at any time, please contact the bequest coordinator in advance to make an appointment.
To learn more about the regulations around body donation in Scotland visit https://www.gov.scot/publications/body-donation-in-scotland-guidance/