NEWS | September 21, 2020

Medical students honor the legacy of body donors

Speeches and songs highlight Service of Gratitude ceremony


UC Davis School of Medicine students this past weekend honored the lives of individuals who donated their bodies to science so that the next generation of doctors can have a more meaningful experience in anatomy lab.

The Service of Gratitude ceremony last weekend connected students to families of body donors The Service of Gratitude ceremony last weekend connected students to families of body donors

The annual Service of Gratitude ceremony was broadcast from Betty Irene Moore Hall into the homes of family members of the deceased by Facebook Live and Zoom. It was a heartfelt recognition from the students about the significance of a hands-on learning experience in human anatomy.

The Saturday morning ceremony opened with a slideshow featuring photos of the donors and continued on to speeches from grateful students.

Second-year student Ian Joseph shared a personal story about how his grandfather, a chemist, donated his body to the school in 2012.

“My grandfather gave his body to this program for much the same reasons that I’m sure that your family members did: He wanted to leave a legacy of making a positive impact in people’s lives for an untold amount of time to come,” Joseph said.

The legacy of the donors, Joseph said, is a unique, important and impactful way “to change the world for the better.”

Representatives from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8358 honored veterans among the donors through a bugler playing “Taps” and a presentation of the U.S. flag.

Second-year student and Navy veteran Joshua Crane then thanked military and veteran families.

“Your loved one’s life, their character, as well as their willingness to sacrifice for others, will live on in every student who walks these halls, and then goes on to serve their communities as doctors,” Crane said.

Typically, the ceremony is attended by family members in person, but in this coronavirus pandemic year, the virtual format allowed families to safely watch from afar, with the added bonus of being able to interact in Facebook comments during the broadcast.

The sentiments of gratitude, it turns out, were mutual.

A daughter whose mother was one of the donated bodies, wrote: “This is exactly what I needed. I know she is where she needs to be. Thank you so much UC Davis School of Medicine. You have put my mind and heart to rest. I will be forever grateful.”

Students performed music with guitars, cello, keyboard and vocals.

School of Medicine Dean Allison Brashear recalled that in her own anatomy class as a medical student she was assigned to a donor who had died of cancer. “I can’t help but think the advances in cancer research that we see today are in part due to those donations.” 

Professor Richard Tucker, who has taught gross anatomy since 1994, explained how the best way to learn anatomy is through dissection, in which body parts are handled and studied, which leaves a mental image in the minds of many students.

For some students, the bodies represent their first patient, Tucker said, but for others, the bodies are the students’ first and best teacher.

“Thank you, all, for the sacrifices you made so your loved ones could play such an important role in medical education,” Tucker said. “Without their gift, many important lessons, some about anatomy, some about death and grieving, would be impossible.”

More than 3,000 donors have given their bodies to the program since 1968.