Universities experiencing a decrease in body donations

Universities experiencing limited body donations. Photo: Swoan Parker.

Universities experiencing limited body donations. Photo: Swoan Parker.

Published Apr 22, 2023


Academic institutions are experiencing a decline in their body donation programmes.

According to Paul Pretorius of the Department of Clinical Anatomy at Stellenbosch University, before the Covid-19 pandemic, they had about 250 bodies, and currently, they have about 28 bodies.

Professor Nanette Briers, head of the Division of Clinical Anatomy at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University (SU), said donations are essential to training undergraduate and postgraduate students in the medical and allied health professions as it provides a practical, realistic experience to understand the structure and function of the human body.

‘’In addition, it helps to conceptualise three-dimensional structures below the skin surface and improve the manual skills needed to physically examine patients or perform surgeries. Lastly, it also fosters the compassion needed to treat living patients,’’ said Prof Briers.

University of Cape Town (UCT) Associate Professor Geney Gunston, Division of Clinical Anatomy and Biological Anthropology, Department of Human Biology, said there had been a minimal decline in donations to UCT.

‘’The Department is appreciative of the people who so kindly donate their bodies for anatomical research. The impact on the education of tomorrow's physicians and other healthcare workers is significant,’’ said Gunston.

Both Briers and Gunston said the gender that is donating their bodies more than the other are males, and females tend to be reluctant to donate.

‘’Any person from the age of 18 and up can donate their body. There is no age limit. Individuals who donate their organs have the option to also donate the remainder of their body to SU,’’ said Briers.

Asked if she thinks culture and religious beliefs have an impact on the body donation programme, she said: ‘’Generally, in the past, people were not very open to the idea. Research on the topic found that religious and cultural beliefs are often quoted as reasons not to donate. However, we are noting an increase in donations as well as a change in our donor profile.’’

Linamandla Ngqoebeni from The Revelation Spiritual Home, a church that practices African spirituality, said donating her body is something she won’t even consider as it goes against her African beliefs.

‘’We believe that when you die, your body has to be properly buried according to African customs and culture so that you can descend to the next life as an ancestor. Your burial site becomes a holy place where your family can go and pay their respects, give thanks, and ask for spiritual healing. We, therefore, can’t have a situation where your body becomes an experiment object,’’ said Ngqobeni.