Monday, December 04, 2006

Bodies of knowledge

Washington Post, page A01:
Medicine didn't have much of a reputation back then [1807]. . . . And anyone serious about the study of anatomy had to get bodies -- somehow.

Without dissections, the only way medical students could really learn was in surgery, said Ronn Wade, director of the Maryland State Anatomy Board. "And they didn't have anesthesia then. It's kind of hard to learn anatomy when you're trying to cut something out [and] the patient's screaming and yelling and hemorrhaging."

U-Md. was the first school in the country to make dissection compulsory, Pitrof said. But it wasn't until the late 1800s, with a growing recognition of the importance of medical education, that Maryland legislators made it legal for the medical school to use unclaimed bodies.

In some countries, scientists were allowed to use bodies from poorhouses or of criminals hanged from gallows. But there was plenty of grave robbing, too -- enough so that wealthy people sometimes put slabs of stone over tombs or hired guards to stay by grave sites until the bodies could decompose.
. . .
You'd think selling bodies would be ancient history. But despite long-running programs allowing people to donate their organs and bodies after death for medical science, this year a black market of body parts made headlines nationally and internationally. In a case in California, for example, hundreds of bodies were illegally carved up.

With growing demand for tissue and bone, some corpses were disappearing, with organs and other body parts sold to medical research facilities, tissue banks and the like.
Hmmm. Seems like the Washington Post would want to more carefully research a page 1 article even if it is a puff piece. As recently posted at Marginal Revolution,
One of the most bizarre aspects of the organ shortage is that it is illegal to pay for cadaveric organs for use in transplants but it is legal to pay for cadavers. That's right, it's illegal to pay people to donate their organs for the purpose of saving lives but medical schools can pay people to donate their bodies so that plastic surgeons can practice their nip and tuck.
Oddly, just a week ago the Post ran an article by experts pointing out that the sale of cadavers is legal. An extract:
Medical schools routinely pay for the cremation or burial (often with elaborate memorial ceremonies) of the people whose bodies were donated to them for medical research and student training. In contrast, it is against federal law to offer any compensation for transplant organ procurement, including paying for organ donors' funeral expenses. This creates a bizarre asymmetry in the treatments of organ and whole body donations.

Given the current cost of funerals, the savings from donating bodies to medical schools can be substantial. This is especially true in states with funeral industry--protective regulations that are intended to keep out low-cost competitors. Those states provide us an opportunity to test empirically the effects of compensation on whole-body donation and, in turn, to extrapolate whether there is any merit to the criticisms of organ donation compensation.

If potential whole body donors respond to financial incentives, then we ought to see more body donations in stringently regulated states where funeral prices are higher. That is, in fact, what the data show.
Aside. Some of the best nose jobs in the world are performed in Iran because surgeons get a lot of practice. Here's why:
Iran's strict Islamic dress code has backfired in at least one big way.

Some young Iranian women are more obsessed with their appearance than their counterparts in the West.

And, as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, they're lining up in record number to improve on the look nature gave them with cosmetic surgery.

The most popular form of plastic surgery in America is liposuction, but in Iran, where the female form is kept largely under wraps, women prefer to spend their money where they can show it off.

So Iran, where the morality police used to confiscate eyeliner and lip gloss, is now the nose job capital of the world.
Iranian men are joining in.

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