Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
In a recent Teaching and Learning Moment,1 a first-year medical student describes her first day in the gross anatomy laboratory and provides a sketch of her cadaver. This sketch was used as the cover art for the journal.
While the student does an admirable job of describing her feelings and gives credit and praise to the woman who was willing to donate her body, I have concerns about placing a picture of an identifiable individual on the cover of a widely read journal. The picture depicts the recognizable facial characteristics of the woman and it also shows her partially dissected. In addition, knowing that the author attends Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia gives a known locale for the woman. This is especially problematic because the woman most likely did not provide consent for this type of exposure. If she had been a patient, there could have been serious ethical complications.
In addition, the student mentions that on her first day the cadavers are fully exposed to the students' view. I hope this is artistic license and not the general practice at Drexel University College of Medicine. In most anatomy laboratories, the cadavers are covered with cloth with their hands and heads wrapped separately. The students are encouraged to remove only the cloth from the region they are studying and to cover the cadaver completely at all other times. This not only helps to preserve the cadaver but also maintains the privacy and dignity of the donor. In addition, it offers the students their first experience in giving correct and proper care to individuals.
With the current use of cadavers for “educational/entertainment” value in traveling exhibitions and with the recent scandals involving the sale of cadavers, it is important that the proper care and respect be accorded to those individuals who have selflessly donated their bodies for the education of medical students.
Thomas H. Champney, PhD
Associate professor, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida; firstname.lastname@example.org.
1Paff M. Artist's statement: My cadaver. Acad Med. 2009;84:829.