No dearth of cadavers for medical studiesYears ago colleges would source bodies from India.
Medical colleges in Nepal, which used to face shortage of dead bodies for medical research, have now got rid of the problem thanks to the changes seen in Nepali society and various other reasons.
The medical colleges that used to bring human bodies from India have enough supply of bodies within the country.
“In the past [some 40 years ago], medical colleges imported the bodies from India,” said Dr Arjun Karki, former vice-chancellor at Patan Academy of Health Sciences. “But now there is no shortage of human remains for teaching-learning purposes.”
According to those privy to the matters, the trend of Nepali people expressing interest before death to sign an agreement to donate their bodies posthumously has increased significantly of late.
Many believe that the trend of some noted public figures making announcements of the donation of their organs has encouraged other people as well. Senior journalist Bhairab Risal and his spouse Sushila Risal, former minister for foreign affairs Pradeep Gyawali and his wife Saraswati, former Health Minister Birodh Khatiwada and Chief Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi are some of the noted personalities who announced to donate their organs for the purpose of medical research.
Currently, there are around two dozen medical colleges in Nepal and most of them have been sourcing cadavers from the Tribhuvan University’s Institute of Medicine for educational purposes.
Each medical college needs around half a dozen human bodies for teaching and learning purposes per year.
The Kist Medical College said it needs five to nine corpses every year.
New technology has also eased the problem. Doctors say, in the past Nepali medical colleges would require more bodies annually as they did not have the technology to preserve them for long. Also, it was not easy to find bodies as no one would readily donate them to hospitals.
Due to the emergence of new techniques to preserve bodies, students now can study the same body for longer periods, said Dr Harihar Wasti, a forensic expert at the Institute of Medicine under Tribhuvan University. Also, the growing availability of unclaimed bodies has helped medical colleges.
But not all donated bodies reach medical colleges. Sometimes family members refuse to hand over the body citing religious reasons. Doctors say it is uncertain whether or not the donated body would come to the hospital. If the person died of infection their dead body cannot be accepted for study, they say.
“The number of people wishing to donate their bodies to medical colleges after death is huge,” said Dr Paban Kumar Sharma, rector at Patan Academy of Health Sciences. “But it isn’t certain that the bodies of all those who announced to donate their bodies posthumously come to the hospital.”
Despite the increasing trend of donating organs by people in Nepali society, medical students mainly rely on the unclaimed bodies arranged by the Institute of Medicine. When unclaimed bodies are found, first the police publish notices in the media informing the general people to claim them if the deceased relate to them. If no one comes forward then the colleges take away the bodies by paying certain fees.
Colleges cremate the remains when they are no longer useful. Hospital administrations have also started addressing some of the concerns of the kin of the deceased.
Last Sunday, family members of the late Satya Mohan Joshi handed over his body to the KIST Medical College as per his wish.
The historian and polymath who passed away at the age of 103, had before his death donated his body to the medical college.
After Joshi’s family inquired about how the medical college would use the body, the college administration organised an oath ceremony for its officials where they vowed to handle the body with care and respect.
“We have promised to the family members that the body would be handled with proper care,” said Amish Pathak, chief of operations at the Kist Medical College and Teaching Hospital. “Students will carry out a detailed study of the body and try to find if there is any mystery behind his long life, past 100 years.”
Last year, Joshi and his wife Radha had announced to donate their bodies to the medical college posthumously for research and educational purposes.