Dartmouth Ceremony Honors Body Donors

Each year, students at Dartmouth Medical School honor the people who donated their bodies to science for use as cadavers... and learn more about the lives those donors led. Susan Keese of Vermont Public Radio attended this year's ceremony.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Each spring at Dartmouth Medical School, first-year students hold a memorial service for the families of the cadavers they've studied all year. It's a way of honoring the body donors who've become the students' silent teachers. Susan Keese of Vermont Public Radio reports.

SUSAN KEESE reporting:

In the Dartmouth chapel, the class of 2008 look their best in skirts and heels, dress shirts and ties. They wanted to make a good impression.

Unidentified Student #1: I cannot put into words how much we have all learned, benefited and grown from the contributions of your loved ones. We got to know these generous individuals in a truly unique and unconventional manner, and in many ways, they have been the most influential part of our learning process thus far.

Unidentified Student #2: And we will honor their gifts by serving our patients in the same spirit of selfless generosity.

KEESE: During the months they spend dissecting the cadavers, the students know only their age and cause of death. In the spring, when the cremated remains are returned to the relatives, they learn more.

Unidentified Student #3: Served in the US Army as a translator at the Nuremberg trials.

Unidentified Student #4: Her life was rather adventurous in their early marriage, if you consider learning to fly in an early open-cockpit airplane adventurous.

Unidentified Student #5: He would make and build anything with wood. He enjoyed baseball and was a longtime patient fan of the Red Sox.

Unidentified Student #6: She handcrafted braided rugs and fed the birds and the visiting skunks.

KEESE: After the service, the future doctors and the families mingled and talked. The students recalled how hard it was at first to take apart a human body.

Unidentified Student #7: And then as the year goes on and you begin to realize that the personalities of the people who tend to make these donations, these are the joyous people, the selfless ones, and so you change from being reverent and stoic to celebrating it, and the lab goes from this quiet, focused kind of place to this, you know, joyous learning environment.

KEESE: Meryl French(ph) said she felt proud of her late father.

Ms. MERYL FRENCH: It was wonderful to think that Dad had affected yet another group of young people as he did throughout his life.

(Soundbite of choir)

Choir: (Singing) Oh, lead me home.

KEESE: The students say that knowing that the donors wanted their bodies to be used in this way makes the lab work easier, but every so often a hint of red nail polish or a tattoo reminds them that someone special is in their hands.

For NPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

(Soundbite of choir)

Choir: (Singing) Oh come, hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand lest I fall. Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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