Actually, are they? I'm not sure. So I won't be addressing the personhood of dead people in this particular blogpost.
What I want to talk about is how wonderful the generous people are who donate their bodies to medical science when they die.
My first degree was in Biomedical Sciences. This included a course in human anatomy with a practical element of cadaveric dissection. I then went on to do an honours project in anatomy during my final year, dissecting elbows for 10 weeks. As such, I have learnt a lot from several dead people and I thought I might pass on some anecdotes and insights.
It is a very strange feeling when someone who you know has been dead for quite some time holds your hand. And that was what happened to me during the carpal tunnel dissection on my anatomy course. Of course she only held my hand because one of my lab group was pulling on her flexor tendons, but it was one of those moments that bring home the humanity of the people who choose to donate their bodies to a medical school. And I'll never know whether our little cadaver was the sort of person who would hold your hand in life but, to come over all maudlin' for a moment, in death she held our hands as we discovered the marvels of the human body, of her body.
Likewise it is somehow humbling to hold in your hand the heart that kept someone alive for eight or nine decades. To my shame I forget how old 'our' cadaver was when she died. All a dissection group learns about their donor is their age at death and cause of death. And I remember taking her heart over to the sink to wash it clean of clots, embalming fluid and extraneous tissue and just holding it for a moment. I don't think about my heart very much. I think about the hearts of my loved ones when they are medically interesting and might consider my own when it is pounding, whyever that may be, but in the main my heart sits beneath my ribcage and quietly gets on with keeping my blood running. And that's amazing.
You get a very strange picture of someone when all you have to go on is their cause of death, age at death and naked, shaven, preserved body. Admittedly, our donor still wore the vestiges of pink nail varnish and still had her false teeth in. but that's not a lot to go on.