In a bid to avoid becoming as one with my sofa (a terrifying thought considering the sofa once contained the ragged undergarments of a previous tenant) I took myself to the Museum of London to see the exhibition ‘Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men’. I enjoy going to exhibitions immensely as I get to admire pretty things (or hacked up skeletons in this case) and to take home some marvelous trivia titbits that can later be regurgitated at a pub quiz. This time however, I left with something else. I left with a sense of surprised disappointment in people (more so than normal).
During my glimpse into a world of London’s grave robbers and unsterile leg choppy-offing, I learned that over the years, the law concerning what happens to your mouldy mortal remains after you snuff it has been as controversial and changeable as Katie Price’s husbands. At one point in the 19th Century, it was the preserve of criminals to be chopped up by hungover medical students, then when it seemed that grave robbing and murder to meet the demands of the medical schools was about to become the most lucrative trade in Britain, the government decided, much to the horror of the singletons of the nation, that if your body remained unclaimed, that is, if no-one cared enough to want to pay for your funeral, the hospital got to turn you into a life-size game of Operation.
Several more changes later and thanks to a hospital hanging on to bits of dead babies, the law was revised again in 2004 and you, as a citizen of the Great British realm, must opt-in to have your corpse put to good use after you’re done pickling it with vodka and Camel Lights. There has been talk of yet another change, to the opt-out system, whereby anyone deciding that they don’t want to be carved up when they’ve turned toe up, must register this objection, and that everyone else is fair game. What shocked me and left me with a sense of disappointment from this exhibition was a video of interviews, where modern day real life actual eligible-to-vote people objected to the opt-out scheme and to donating their mortal remains for reasons that left me agog.
Here, for your pleasure and slack jawed amazement are some of my favourite arguments from the exhibition and from people I’ve met.
“I don’t want them using my eyes, I’ll need them to see.” – Yes, you have a valid point here. Because once you’re dead you’ll want to admire the inside of your coffin lid and enjoy the view from your funeral procession. Oh, no, hang on, you won’t because you’ll be dead!
“I don’t like the thought of people doing things to me after I’ve died.” – I can see how the thought of being violated might upset you, because when you come round and they tell you that they played with the inside of your colon, you’ll feel really awkward and won’t be able to forget about it for days. Hold on, can you actually come round from a post-mortem? Can dead people remember physical violations? No, because they’re dead!
“I want all my bits intact when I’m buried. I want to take them all with me.” – Listen sweetheart, I think we’ve all heard enough country songs to know that you can’t take it with you, no matter what “it” is. You, your personality/essence/soul/spirit/mixer are not your physical being – just ask someone with severe physical disabilities. Even the deeply religious have to admit that your “spirit” isn’t the same thing as the feeble mortal vessel which totes it about this Earthly plane. Anyway, cremation aside, I’m not sure how much of your corpse you get to keep after time, bacteria and worms have had a pop. Decomposition tends not to leave a set of fully functioning “bits” for all that long because they’re dead!
“They’ve done enough research, they know how the human body works so they don’t need to do more.” – I can see where you’re coming from with this one because yes, they’ve cured all medical conditions and all doctors have had a practice on a real body. Oh, apart from all the diseases that still haven’t been eradicated and apart from all the future doctors who are currently eating crayons at primary school. I don’t know about you, but if I get seriously ill, I’d like to know that the person rooting around inside my giblets has had a guided tour round someone else first. Apart from that, good point, well made (for a cretin).
“People might forget or not understand that they have to opt out.” – You’re so right, it really is complicated: Do you want to donate? Yes – good, you don’t need to do anything. Do you not care either way? Yes – good, you don’t need to do anything. Do you have especially strong feelings about wanting to deprive others of being able to benefit from your carcass when you’re done using it? Oh, you do? Fine, then as you’re so bothered about it, you’ll be sure to make certain that doesn’t happen by opting out.
In case you were wondering what difference opt-in versus opt-out looks like in terms of how many people “choose” to be organ donors under each scheme, let’s look at some lovely empirical data comparing two relatively similar nations. Germany has gone with the opt-in policy and has a 12% organ donation consent rate. Austria has gone down the opt-out route and has a whopping 99.98% organ donation consent rate. That’s a lot of forgetful Austrians.
“I don’t like the thought of someone else walking round with one of my organs inside them.” – Why don’t we make it a little more incentivised for you; if you opt out (or don’t opt in under current rules), you forfeit any rights to receiving donated human tissue. Sound fair? But I can totally see how you might think you’d mind saving someone’s life when you’re dead, because you’ll totally be aware of it. No, hang on, you won’t, because you’ll be dead!
I myself am a registered human tissue donor. I’m not that bothered about the heroic back pat my name may receive if someone’s life is saved by utilising one of my wobbly bits, I won’t be there to know about it and quite honestly, I’m not that altruistic or fond of strangers with a propensity for car crashes or liver failure. It’s just that I won’t need my bag of bones after I’m gone, so why not let other people do some possible good with them? Let someone else have a turn at getting old, making fantastically poor life choices and having barrels of fun along the way.
I’m not telling you that you should register as an organ donor or donate your body to science, that’s entirely your choice, but please for the love of all that is sane and logical, if you choose not to, at least have better arguments than those above and if they offer to save your life using one of my post-mortal coil-dropping-off jibbly bits, refuse. I will only haunt your stupidity from within and make your bowels irritable at every embarrassing moment imaginable. Oh, and don’t worry, no-one will want your brain.