Tuesday 14 October 2008

All That Was Mortal...

Today I shall be at the funeral of the fondly remembered aunt I mentioned in a recent post (the last on my father's side - another small shuffle towards the front line). Only it won't really be a funeral, as there will be no religious (or even 'humanist') service and no body. That she has donated - as her husband did before her - to Science.
This, it seems to me, is rationally very laudable - there's a shortage of cadavers, and 'spare parts' can relieve a lot of suffering - and, at a deeper emotional level, disturbing. Like it or not - reasonable or not - we humans are deeply attached to the remains of our loved ones (and, even more irrationally, to our own). A glance at Homer - or the newspapers - confirms this. Even if we regard the body as no more than a temporary casing of the soul, even if we have no belief at all, even if we fully accept Cartesian dualism, the body still seems to be in some sense the person, and to that extent demands respectful treatment. I admire the strong-minded ethical rationalism of those who can dispose of their bodies in this altruistic way - and of the families who are happy with the arrangement - but I'm pretty sure that I never could, and would have difficulty accepting a close loved one doing so. Is this just self-indulgent squeamishness?


  1. Medical students at University put me off the idea of leaving my body to science, but I'm perfectly happy to carry a card saying that when I'm dead people are welcome to re-use bits of me. This is clearly illogical, but I'm vain enough to like the idea of a marked grave alongside those of my antecedents.

  2. I shall donate my nose to any Tel Aviv hospital that needs one, the rest is clapped out.
    I would imagine that most people would agree in principle with your aunts sentiments but when push comes to shove would baulk.
    Ash scattering would be sadly missed, a distant relative gave instructions to scatter his at a specific part of Ashridge common, turned out that was where his extra marital doings took place.
    The old boy whose house we bought died in the Cotswolds but insisted that his were returned here and scattered over the Eildons where for many years he farmed.
    Many of my climbing friends, too many, have theirs scattered all over the place, mostly above 12,000 feet. My personal preference is just outside of the entrance to the Bruichladdich distillery.
    On a lighter note I will happily donate Gordon-apocalypse-preventer-Browns body to science, today.

  3. I'm an organ donor. Once I'm dead, who cares? My body is not me and I'm not worried about having all my parts in one place for the Resurrection (that's the reason people were so freaked out by body snatchers in the Burke & Hare era).