Monday, January 20, 2014

Abracadabra, You're A Cadaver

You hear about shortages of a lot of things, or pending shortages, every once in a while. Oil. Water. Runs on ammunition. Helium shortages. Whatever crop has had a particularly bad growing season. Whatever the hot toy is this holiday. Demand gets too high or supply gets too low, that's what happens to anything.

Today I present to you a shortage of cadavers. We're not just talking about organ donors here, though that is part of it. We're also talking medical students, certified doctors who need to keep up their training, This isn't new; it's been a rather chronic thing for quite some years now.

Now, you'd think, at first thought, that cadavers wouldn't be in short supply. After all, people keep dying all the time. But it isn't that simple. For most people, they have the funeral or the cremation straightaway and that's the end of it; many people and some entire cultures revere the body and don't want it chopped up in any way other than for ceremonial disposal. Other bodies get mangled too badly in their deaths to be able to use. Others get too riddled with disease to use; obviously it had to have been something that caused the person to die, but to be usable as a cadaver, it can't have overtaken too much of the body, which tends to rule out your particularly nasty infection victims. The person also must have been in relatively good health beforehand, which rules out the elderly and the obese. You can see the candidate count dropping even before we get into the issue of people willing to donate a body, or the fact that another major source- unclaimed bodies- is drying up as well, because more bodies are getting claimed these days. (And in, for example, India, even the unclaimed bodies are off-limits.)

That's your lack of supply. It's being met with a rise in demand, because not only are more people attending medical school, but more programs are using cadavers than before. So with a lack of bodies, the medical community is forced to either find a way to shore up the numbers, or else find an alternative and do without. The latter way has workarounds- virtual cadavers, for instance, or reusable mannequins- but there's no true substitute for an actual body. So the former method- getting more bodies- is explored, and for that, you can either ask people to consider that option in their wills, or if that's not fast enough a method, you're left paying for the funeral/cremation of someone who's otherwise too poor to handle those expenses themselves, a legal workaround to paying for a body directly, which you can't do.

What's the solution to this, you ask? That pretty much is the solution; get more people to make their bodies available. The med schools might be able to pay for more donor funerals if money was going to that part of the school instead of, say, the athletic program. Hint, hint.

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