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Tamil Nadu: For Science, Living Beyond Death

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People are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of donating their bodies to science and medicine after their deaths. An elderly couple from an orthodox family signed to forego their last rites. A teenager celebrated her birthday in the anatomy department of a medical college. A woman felt a stab every time she passed by a particular city hospital until her last breath. Their emotions were different from resilience and exhilaration to anguish but a cause united them all: To leave their bodies or those of their kin to science.

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Retired octogenarian railway employee L Subramaniam, of Velachery, and his wife registered to donate their bodies to Madras Medical College (MMC) for research in 2013. “It was an emotional moment for us,” said Subramaniam, “Not because it marked our end, but a possible beginning in science.” Medical colleges are also registering an increase in the number of young donors. “What they are doing now will benefit science four or five decades later,” said Dr Rajapriya, head of the anatomy department at Kilpauk Medical College Hospital.

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Last year, in November, the Madras Medical College had to surprise guests in their anatomy department, the entire family of an 18-year-old girl who came in to celebrate her birthday by signing their daughter up for a donation of her body after her death. Her motivation — a possible breakthrough in the study of Alzheimer’s. “It robbed my grandmother of his memory,” said N Sudha. “No doctor could save her,” said the teen. The state offers no counselling for the families of donors. A certificate is the only evidence of their gesture. For 78-year-old K Sarala, who donated her husband’s body to Stanley Medical College Hospital in 2013, that didn’t suffice to come to terms with her husband’s death. Sarala passed away last year. “Every time she passed by the college, she would imagine her husband’s body being dissected and it would make her doubt a decision,” said her son Vimal K.

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