By Andrea Jenkins

At the end of each academic year McGill University’s Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology hosts a commemorative service to honour those who have donated their bodies to science education at the university.  The ceremony signifies the end of study with the individual donors’ bodies, which can last up to two years, and provides a moment of closure for the families, as well as a sense of connection with McGill.

The ceremony was held this year on June 21 with a packed house in Redpath Hall, comprised of family members, faculty and students.  After the student choir kicked off the event, a silence fell over the room and the students were given the opportunity to express their gratitude to a captivated audience through readings, poetry and music.

Although the identity of the donors remains anonymous, the students relate to them as mentors in their studies, a notion that helps convey to the families the magnitude of the unique gift given by their loved ones. “It is very touching because they agreed to donate their bodies to science with the disadvantage of not having a funeral,” notes Sep Pouresa a recent kinesiology graduate who will be entering first-year of dentistry in the fall.

Through the generosity of their gift, donors become the first patients for the students, which Ali Mohammed, a graduate from the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology says, “Is where most of the learning occurs. It is when you get to see that things aren’t always as perfect as they appear in text books.”  In this way, students get to know their donors as individuals and learn to appreciate how small decisions have a lasting impact on the body.

When a body is donated for study, it must be transported to the university within 48 hours of death, often before a funeral can take place or questions regarding body donation can be fully addressed.  The role of coordinating transport and communicating with families for the duration of the study belongs to Joseph Dubé, Administrative Coordinator for the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine. Dubé is also co-chair of the commemorative service along with Dr. Nicole Ventura, Assistant Professor in the Division of Anatomical Sciences.

For Dubé the ceremony is the first time he is meeting the families with whom he has developed a personal connection with while communicating about the passing of their loved one. “It really sheds light on how important every duty I have for the body donor program is.”  The ceremony is also a time of self-reflection for Dr. Ventura, who spends most of her time working with the students in the lab and sees the event as an opportunity, “To come back to how fortunate we are to be at a university that has a body donation program and that we have so many families that we can celebrate that with.”

This is the first year the two co-chairs have been responsible for coordinating the ceremony, which they say helps put all of their work throughout the year into perspective.  For the first time this year, they chose to extend the invitation to participate in the event to include all inter-professional students who interact with the donors during the year.  Dubé and Ventura believe the participation of students from across health care disciplines will help students contextualize their experience in the lab and allow families to see the full impact of the donor’s decision in preparing students for the future.  “The event is an opportunity for health professional programs that typically work separately to, come together, collaborate, integrate, talk to one another about their experiences and reflect with one another,” explains Dr. Ventura. It is an opportunity that second-year medical student Allen Chang says, “Is one of the many steps the faculty is taking to make sure we understand what all the allied health professionals do and how we can work together.”

For students like Sep, this is the first time he has been invited to participate in the commemorative service, an experience, he says, he is grateful for as he and his peers have been working with the donors for the last two years and now have the chance to explain to the families what a truly great opportunity their loved ones have provided them with and what an impact they have made.


July 19, 2017