Unique Ceremony Honors Cadavers, Celebrates Life

135 sophomores thank the cadavers they worked on as freshmen in gross anatomy

September 23, 2013

A jar for cremated remains may seem an incongruous sight at an institution dedicated to teaching the art of healing.  But like the other funeral urns on display at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City, this most recent addition to the school’s collection is filled with post-it notes, not ashes.  It contains a reverence for life rather than the remains of death.

This past July, on the second day of the 2013-2014 academic year, 135 sophomores participated in an annual ceremony at Touro to thank the cadavers they worked on as freshmen taking gross anatomy.  But, unlike at other medical schools where students may take a moment at the end of their semester to say thanks, the cadaver memorial appreciation ceremony held at Touro—an institution founded on the tenets of Orthodox Jewish law and tradition—“is more about the celebration of human life, its frailty and complexity, and how students who are beginning their journey to become physicians and heal sickness have gained that understanding and sensitivity to these fine points that we all take for granted,” said Rabbi Moshe Krupka, executive vice president. 

The cadaver memorial appreciation ceremony at Touro is held after the summer break so that during students’ time away from school they can “reflect on the medical education they’ve garnered during the previous year and realize the importance of what the cadaver imparted to them in order to understand the rest of medicine,” said dean and professor Dr. Robert Goldberg.

“At the ceremony, we ask students to think about their cadaver and to thank it.  They take out post-it notes and write stories,” said dean and professor Dr. Robert Goldberg, citing as an example the following message from a member of the Class of 2016:

“Thank you for allowing us to learn and practice medicine.  I realize that this was not easy for the family and this is a sacrifice that is truly beyond words.  My grandfather wanted his body donated to science, but it was too difficult for the family to allow this.  So, I understand how brave the family was and I am extremely grateful.  Rest in peace.”

“We have 135 such notes,” said Dr. Sushama Rich, anatomy department chairperson who conducts the annual ceremony with Dr. Goldberg.  “When you read some of the things the students write, it’s really amazing how much they connect with the cadavers during dissection time.”

Ehab Yasin, a member of the Class of 2016, thinks “it’s a great way to show respect for the cadavers.”  He added that he used the ceremony in July to reflect on the strong foundation in anatomy he obtained by working on cadavers, but even more so, to consider what they taught him about the vulnerability of life.