South East Wales

Medical science body donor memorial at Cardiff University

Body donors memorial slab
Image caption The memorial is intended to remind students of the generosity of donors

The UK's first permanent memorial to people who have donated their bodies to medical science is being unveiled at Cardiff University.

A marble slab created by artist Tom Phillips has been installed at the university's School of Biosciences.

It bears the inscription: "Alive we thought beyond our lives to give our bodies as a book for you to read".

Professor Bernard Moxham said the memorial would remind anatomy students of the generosity of the donors.

Research tool

The university said that each year 40 to 50 people bequeathed their bodies to the institution, helping to train the next generation of surgeons, pathologists, and dentists; as well as students of radiography, physiotherapy, podiatry, art and optometry.

The slab was created by Tom Phillips, whose memorial sculpture to the Armed Forces was recently installed at Westminster Abbey in London.

Rather than being on public display, the memorial to donors has been placed within the university's anatomy laboratory, which is the largest in the UK.

The school's professor, Bernard Moxham, said he was keen for the memorial to be viewed by those who most needed to see it.

"The first lesson we teach any medical student is to respect their patient as a person rather than a condition," he said.

"And in terms of their education, a donated body is the first patient they will encounter."

"Our students already appreciate how lucky they are to have such a resource, but it will re-enforce the message when they only have to look up to see the generosity of human spirit which has made all of our work possible."

Image caption Surgeons depend on donated bodies in order to learn their skills

Each year the laboratory is used by 800 undergraduate and 100 postgraduate students.

Since Prof Moxham joined in 1990, he has received 1,030 donor bodies, which he said had contributed to the training of more than 6,000 doctors, 1,500 dentists and the same number of nurses, as well as many thousands of bioscience researchers and other medical professionals.

However, he stressed that the dedication on Friday was not intended as a means of recruiting more donors.

"We are unbelievably grateful for everyone who leaves their body to us," he said.

"I wouldn't want anyone to think that the memorial was anything other than a recognition of the unparalleled gift they have left the world.

"Each one of those 1,030 donors made a conscious decision during their life, to improve the world, even though they'll no longer benefit from it."

"What better way is there of spreading the footprint of your positive impact on life after your death?"

Myths dispelled

Prof Moxham said there were common misconceptions about donating bodies to medical science.

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Media captionDr Tracey Wilkinson from Cardiff University spoke to Kayley Thomas on BBC Radio Wales

They included the belief that only healthy bodies were accepted; that people had to choose between organ donation and leaving their body to research; and that donating a body meant the person could not have a conventional funeral.

"We appreciate any and all bodies," he said.

"Textbooks and models can take a student so far, but the only thing which is typical about a human body is how we all differ slightly. A medical condition or disease is all part of that, and helps improve our students' diagnostic skills."

"Whilst we can benefit from every part of a donor body, we totally understand that some people may wish to be an organ donor first and foremost, but would like to leave to research any parts which aren't viable for transplant. We can personalise an arrangement to fulfil an individual's wishes."

"Some families of people who've left their bodies to medical science choose to have a funeral or memorial service around the time of their death.

"However, once our students and researchers have gained all the possible benefits from the donation - typically around a year afterwards - we fund a cremation and service of thanksgiving, which all the family and friends are more than welcome to help arrange and take-part in."

The artist Tom Phillips CBE, who recently had a memorial sculpture to the Armed Forces installed at Westminster Abbey, said it had been a fine idea of Professor Moxham to celebrate with art those who donate their physical remains to science.

"I hope the memorial does sensitive honour to their generosity," he said.

The unveiling on Friday will be attended by students from the School of Biosciences, along with relatives of many of those who had donated their bodies for research.

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