The Importance Of Medical Students

Submitted By juliashanks
Words: 742
Pages: 3

My father died just under eighteen months ago. This morning I went to his funeral. He had decided to give his body to “medical research”, which I think meant to be cut up by medical students as part of learning anatomy. I was far from overjoyed with his decision, especially when I grasped the timescale, but I could not really fault it. Dust to dust. Once, he died, his body was just atoms, destined to start the ultimate recycling in a few billion years when the sun engulfs the earth in its giant phase. If some medical students can be helped along the way, surely that is pure gain?

The medical schools organize, and pay for, cremations. This morning half-a-dozen corpses were burnt, a separate service for each, ten minutes with mourners, five minutes without. Everything was done with impeccable taste and courtesy. Clearly, this was a much-practised routine.

I had the option, of course, of arranging a funeral myself, at my own expense. I am not quite sure why I didn’t. Partly, the whole thing was so painful, still, that it was easier just to let events take their course. Partly, I seemed to be the only person who felt that the memorial service I had organized a few weeks after his death was a sham. I am not quite sure about the religious significance of a funeral service, but a memorial service is not even a proper funeral – there is no body. So none of the important liturgy, designed perhaps to remind you of your own impending death, can be used.

The crematorium was adjacent to a local authority cemetery in south London. There was a railway station a mile or so north, but the trains from London Bridge were every hour, so I ended up arriving 45 minutes early. Time to look around the cemetery. There was a splendid notice explaining Health & Safety procedures. Hmmm. I thought, a bit late for that. No, the concern (not of course spelt out in terms) was that visitors might be crushed by falling gravestones. Accordingly, an elaborate set of procedures was in force. Anything classified as a “Category 1 risk (imminent danger)” was to be leveled forthwith.

It is always hard to argue with H&S procedures. After all, do you really want to advocate exposing people to needless danger?

The first part of the answer, of course, is that economics should rule. Resources are limited and you have to prioritize. There are endless ways of saving lives and safeguarding limbs by spending money. You cannot implement them all. But rational appraisal is constantly competing with emotion. In particular, fear is largely driven by column-inches and TV-news-seconds, or worse by graphic images of horror, and once fear is abroad, rational debate is suspended.

The “war on terror” is the clearest…