Accepted Paper:

Bodies, persons, cadavers: how body donors and medical students ponder and practice anatomical dissection in Denmark  


Maria Olejaz (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

Based on anthropological fieldwork in dissection labs in Denmark and on interviews with body donors, this paper explores and contrasts the meanings and values of the medical cadaver among donors and medical students.

Paper long abstract:

Bodies of the dead continue in many universities to serve as pedagogical tools in the education of medical doctors. These endeavors with cadavers depend on people's willingness to donate their body post mortem. The paper is based on fieldwork at anatomical dissection classes in 3 Danish medical schools; interviews with instructors and students at these classes; fieldwork at 2 surgical courses using cadavers; as well as on in-depth interviews with 33 Danish citizens, of which some where whole body donors (14 people), organ donors or had decided not to donate post mortem. The paper explores how notions of body and person are imagined and practiced when dead bodies become medical resources. Through juxtaposing those who donate and those who make use of dead bodies, it is shown how different ideas and values such as autonomy, utility, dignity, anonymity and respect are expressed and reworked in and through words and practices that depend on but also bring into being the medical cadaver as an ambiguous and flexible entity. The paper thus argues for an understanding of dead bodies that goes beyond either object or subject and instead brings into light the unstableness and multiplicity of dead bodies as resources.

Panel P20
New immortalities: anthropological reflections on the procurement, transformation and use of human cadaveric tissue