Category Archives: cadaver

A new meaning to New Year, New Me

As I was browsing Netflix in search of a new show – an extremely terrible idea with finals’ season approaching – a trailer for a new Netflix original series began to play. After being in this class for nearly a full semester, the first lines of the preview immediately caught my attention:

“Your body is not who you are. You shed it like snake sheds its skin.”

So, against my better judgement, I watched the first episode of Altered Carbon. (Don’t worry, I will not spoil anything). The show centers on the character Takeshi Kovacs who has just awoken in a new body after 250 years ‘on ice.’ While this is extraordinary to me, and I am assuming to you readers as well, for him and everyone else in his society this body replacement is perfectly normal. In this sci-fi universe, set about 300 years into the future, everyone gets a “stack” implanted at the base of their skull when they turn one. Each person’s stack stores and codes their consciousness. When they die their stack can be implanted into a new body, or “sleeve,” and they can continue living, but only if they can afford it. Sleeves are extremely limited. Thus far, it has not been made explicitly clear, but these sleeves seem to be the bodies of prisoners. Regardless, no one truly dies unless their stack is destroyed. It is technology that permits brain transplantation and with slightly less mess than previously imagined.

This kind of innovation would completely change the human perception of life and death. Humans would be able to outlive their own bodies. It would put immortality within reach. If someone had the means, they could go on living indefinitely. But brain transplantation would also create huge ethical dilemmas. We would have to determine if it is even morally sound to inhabit a new body. We would be forced to decide whose bodies would be for sale. Would we, like this show, use prisoners? Or, like Get Out, kidnap Black people? Or use losers in wars? Or would we, by then, have the technology to upload people into robots? We would also have to decide who could receive a new body, at what point in their lives, and how many times they could be transplanted. It would change everything.

Do you think our society will ever reach this point? Do you think brain transplantation is ethical? What are your ideas on whose bodies should/would be used? Would you ever want to be put into a new body?

Putting the Fun in Funeral

What describes your life? Is it a camera? A football? Maybe a plane? I have a hard time picking an object that sums up my life, but some people have the perfect idea in mind.

That is where Paa Joe from the Ga tribe in coastal Ghana comes in. Unlike modern Americans, people in Ghana celebrate death and commonly commemorate it with elaborate and unique coffins. The living aim to honor their dead with coffins that represent their legacy. Paa Joe, after almost five decades in the business, now works with his son to handcraft these highly sought after caskets. His son explains that their coffins

“remind people that life continues after death, that when someone dies they will go on in the afterlife, so it is important that they go in style.”

Ghanian families and surrounding community members place much value on showcasing the part that contemporary African art plays life and death.  They strongly believe that the dead must be buried in something that represents the role they played while alive, in order to remember where they come from and what they have left behind as they move into the afterlife. Although these handmade coffins can cost upwards of $15,000, people of the Ga tribe believe that it is more honorable to live in lifelong debt because of the burial ceremony than it is to cut the costs of a proper funeral. In conjunction with the idea that the funeral is the culmination of all life events, it is extremely vital to allocate all resources to executing this ritual in the proper fashion.

I find it very interesting that although the casket appearance is intended to encapsulate someone’s entire life, the people within the casket actually have no say in deciding what that object will be. Family and friends are tasked with the job of determining what they commission Paa Joe to create. What object will a part time fisherman, talented artist, soccer-loving father be placed in?

Reducing a person to the representation of a singular object goes hand in hand with the impersonal nature of the cadaver. The cadaver may symbolize the person and the life they once had, but in itself is bereft of any form of personhood. Memories and stories take the place of the body in terms of remembering who the person was and what they were like. These exquisite coffins are by all means quite impressive, but many could argue that they are unnecessary. After 3-4 days of public display, they are lowered six feet under the ground and are never seen again. Culturally they still uphold values of social order and religion, but physically they play a minimal role in the end of life.

All things considered, would you want to be buried in a fantasy coffin, and if so…what would it be?

For more information and pictures, click here or watch this short clip.






Lonely Deaths


I was on snapchat, after the horrid update, and I went to the discovery section because it was  too frustrating  to figure out the actual snapchat part. I like to browse through the magazines and journals that discuss everything from beauty tips and lifestyle content to world news. I came across this one post in particular that struck me. The article was titled, “Cleaning up After the Dead.”

Those who know me well  understand why I was  drawn to a title like this. For those who don’t, I have a never ending interest when it comes to dark and unanswered things, such as death. However, this article was not about death. The bigger picture  focused on one of my least favorite topics: relationships.

As the world becomes, debatably, more progressive, relationship status is not as important, especially in Japan where one was supposed to find a spouse at a young age and start a family. Well, the people of Japan, and society internationally, have decided that a relationship is not a priority. People are living longer and accomplishing more due to the advancement of biomedical technologies which has shifted our values. I know I do not want to get married anytime soon; there is too much for me to see and do in the world-alone.

I come from a small town in Maryland where a lot of the girls set out to find a boyfriend in high school, follow him to college, and then get married after graduation. This has happened to a handful of my, high school friends. I am not criticizing them, it is just interesting how societal values can change, but even with international communication, some communities stay the same. Anyways, this is not the case in Japan. More men than women are choosing to stay single for longer or even opt out of marriage and the relationship lifestyle forever.


This is great, but unfortunately it takes an eerie turn. Men are dying alone and while that is already sad, their bodies are not discovered right away. It can take up to four months to figure out a tenant is dead. If they are living alone, nobody notices their absence until their neighbors  distinguish a foul scent, their mail piles up, or they are behind on rent.

Yes, their bodies do begin to decompose into the floor and maggots find their way into the housing. This happens so often that a new industry has opened in the Japanese economy for crews thats specialize in cleaning up after lonely deaths. Landlords can and often do purchase insurance, lonely death insurance, so they will not have to pay much to have the apartment cleaned for a new tenant.

Shocking, right? I guess it is good for the economy; it is just sad that when an individual chooses themself over others, they suffer a lonely death where their body sits and decomposes until someone else’s life is affected by the death. Basically, the moral of the story is: find a significant other!



“7 Reasons Not to Be an Organ Donor”

I was scrolling through my News Feed on Facebook, and I came across this post by the Odyssey:

Screenshot of Facebook post

“7 Reasons Not to Be an Organ Donor”

I stopped scrolling. As a student in this class and as an organ donor myself, I was intrigued to discover the reasons for denouncing organ donation. So, I clicked. And this is what I saw:

Screenshot of Odyssey article

“Actually, there aren’t any.”

I chastised myself for succumbing to click bait, but I marveled at the brilliance of the tactic.

This post attracts organ donors like myself because it challenges our beliefs. I wanted to know how someone could possibly come up with seven valid reasons for not becoming an organ donor. Yet, it also appeals to those who are not organ donors by validating their decision.

The article begins with statistics on the disparity between the number of people who support organ donation and the number of people who demonstrate their support by donating their organs. In the United States, the demand for organs is much greater than the supply. People die every day waiting on the organ transplant list.

In an attempt to amend these inequalities, the author dispels seven rumors that might persuade one to not become an organ donor.

Two rumors addressed in the article were previously discussed in class: “If doctors know that I am an organ donor, they won’t try to save my life as hard” and “Doctors might not be 100 percent sure that I am dead.” These rumors are not unfounded. Instances of supposedly brain dead patients that “wake up” during organ harvesting do exist, like this woman from New York. However, laws and practices are now in place to prevent these gross oversights from happening again.

Another common rumor, one that I even believed myself, is that organ donation precludes you from having an open casket funeral. If Americans harbor the misconception that organ donation will interfere with customary funeral practices, I can understand the decision to not become donors. The challenge, nonetheless, will be to educate people on the realities of organ donation.

I think this article is an excellent first step in informing the public about organ donation. In this age of technology, many people formulate their opinions from posts such as this one on Facebook. While the argument becomes too emotional at times, it is backed by evidence. To continue learning about other common rumors about organ donation, read the original article here.




Abra, Cadaver, Alakazam!

an empty grave


On April 17, Dr. Daina Barry of the University of Texas-Austin delivered the 2017 Grace Towns Hamilton lecture at Emory University in which she explored the history of domestic trade in cadavers in the United States. This history, which is chronicled in her book The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, reaches back into the antebellum period, when corpses of enslaved Black people were sold for the purposes of medical research. Using data including, but not limited to, autopsies, medical college anatomy course notes, and grave-robbery notices, Dr. Barry pieced together narratives of how these bodies were obtained and what happened once they were. She reported a statistic asserting that anywhere between 4200 – 8000 human dissections were performed by medical college students between 1760 and 1876. Many Black bodies were mutilated during this course of affairs because they were legally considered chattel, or property, before 1865 and after the creation of state anatomy laws in the 1880s such as The Pennsylvania Anatomy Act of 1883, they were less protected under the law than whites. Dr. Barry utilized Grandison Harris, a Black man purchased by 7 faculty at the Medical College of Georgia in 1852, to illustrate this point. Mr. Harris was hired solely to disinter bodies to be dissected in anatomy classes at the college and robbed many bodies from Cedar Grove Cemetery, a historically Black burial ground, because it was received less protection from thieves than white cemeteries. One particularly interesting element of her historical interpretation is the metaphor of “cultivating the corpse,” much like a crop that must be first planted (buried) then later harvested (exhumed).

This work on the cadaver trade expands the scholarship that explores death as a historical and cultural phenomenon. By digging into evolution of the relationship between institutions such as the law and education, we can understand that death in the United States is culturally constructed. Furthermore, it has serious implications at the intersection of race specifically. For example, if Black bodies were more likely to be disinterred, or disturbed from their final resting place, we should expect the African-American culture to reflect this. Accordingly, Dr. Vanessa Siddle Walker added during the Q&A of the talk that as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1976 she was warned to be careful on campus after dark, lest she “end up as a cadaver in the medical school.” Thus, histories of interacting with death and the deceased have far-reaching consequences of our cultural organization and social institutions.

The Effects of a Changing Ecosystem on Parsis End of Life Rituals

Tower of Silence

The Parsis people of India came from Persia over one-thousand years ago and brought with them their Zoroastrian religion and burial practices. These practices, similar to the Tibetan Sky Burial practice, include the use of vultures in what is known as the Tower of Silence. For the Parsis people, after prayers and a ceremony, the dead are taken to the Tower of Silence. It is at this tower that the corpses are exposed to the sun, elements, and birds of prey. Largely, vultures have filled the roll of cleaning the meat from the bones of the dead as the Parsis feel that traditional burial or cremation pollutes the environment. This practice has been threatened in recent years as the vultures across India have been disappearing. By 2007 the vulture population across India had fallen by 99 percent. This loss was due to an NSAID called diclofenac that was given to cattle to help with joint pain. This drug causes kidney damage and death in vultures taking a massive toll on populations. This change in ecosystem has left the Parsis people with the problem of how to deal with their dead and honor their traditions.

The Parsis people have had to turn to man-made ingenuity to help compensate for the absence of the vultures in the form of solar energy concentrators. These devices help to speed up the dehydration and decomposition of the bodies but only on days where the sun shines. This causes problems during monsoon seasons in India. Without the help of vultures the process of cleaning a body and returning it to the earth goes from hours to weeks. It has also caused problems with neighboring communities who take issue with the sight and smell of a Tower of Silence. Several Tower of Silences have already had to be relocated because of issues with the smell and sight. The Indian government has outlawed the use of the drug responsible for damaging the vulture populations and vulture sanctuaries have been working for the past several years to breed and release populations back into the wild. For the Parsis people of India, the reintroduction and reemergence of the vultures would mean the continuation of their religion and end of life rituals.



Funeral Home Makes Missing Body Parts

A funeral home in Shanghai, China has started a 3D printing repair service in an attempt to repair damaged or disfigured corpses. Body mutilation is very common in Chinese corpses over recent years, as hundreds of people have died due to industrial accidents, natural disasters, and traffic accidents. At the Longhua Funeral Parlor, multiple layers of material are built on top of each other to create a 3D product. This technology is intended to complete the faces of loved ones when laid to rest at memorial services. With a combination of 3D printing, hair implants, and makeup, loved ones can receive reconstructed faces up to at least 95 percent of similarity.

Traditionally in Chinese funeral homes, substances such as sludge and wax were used to repair the shape of corpses’ faces. However, these substances did not recreate the skin to accuracy. 3D printing technology allows lost loved ones to look more like themselves and maintain their character as if they were living, which aids in the emotional closure of relatives. Facial reconstructions in China would cost anywhere from $620 to $776. This service, as first offered by the Longhua Funeral Parlor, is part of Shanghai’s implementation of China’s 13th Five Year Plan. Specifically in February 2015, plans were issued to develop the country’s 3D printing industry. Services are expected to grow from 3D parts, such as skin and hair, to 3D organs in the efforts to aid disabilities and organ donor shortages.

This article posed many questions to me as I thought about unveiling caskets at funeral services in my own culture. I remember gazing at faces of loved ones that appeared glossy and plastic. Although the details of a face may seem so small in the grand scale of a funeral, but I believe these are the details that can bring us the most closure as we mourn and try to move on.

I am incredibly curious as to what materials are used to reconstruct the faces, due to the price range. I also wonder how often these services are used and if they are only seen in the mortuary rituals of middle or upper class families. We know that socioeconomic status, amongst other inequalities, shapes our funeral services and death processes. Yet, I’m interested if this Five Year Plan in China serves to really aid everyone affected by China’s industrial accident problem.

Reference: Ma, A. (2016, August 01). A Chinese Funeral Home Is 3D Printing Body Parts For Damaged Corpses. Retrieved April 8, 2017, from

Promession: The Most Ecological Way to Bury Our Dead?

The final product of over 20 years of research and testing from Swedish scientist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, promession is a new, eco-friendly burial option for those wishing for their corpse to leave the smallest ecological impact possible. Concerned with the negative impact current burial practices have on the environment, Wiigh-Mäsak came up with this method to return our bodies to the ground in a way that gives nutrients back to the earth instead of damaging it.

There are several steps to promession. The first occurs after the funeral services or ceremonies have taken place and the body is placed into the Promator machine. Once there, the body will be frozen using liquid nitrogen to -196° C (or -321° F). This process takes about two hours, and all of the liquid nitrogen used will evaporate into the air harmlessly. After it has been frozen, the body will then be transported onto a belt, which will use ultrasonic vibrations to shatter the body into tiny, millimeter-sized pieces. It only takes one minute to break the body down in this way. Next, the body is placed into a vacuum chamber where the remaining water is extracted from the body and which will then evaporate into the air. After this, only 30% of the body’s total composition remains. The remaining dry particles go through electrical currents which will remove any metal left in the body (such as dental fillings and prosthetic hips), and this metal will then be recycled. Finally, the remains are placed into a small, bio-degradable coffin, which is then buried very shallowly. The body and coffin will be completely decomposed within 6-12 months, which can be contrasted to the several years it can take for a typical burial.

As someone who tries to live in an environmentally-conscious way, I find this method of burial very attractive. However, with all the expensive equipment and technology that is used, I could easily see this being an extremely expensive way to be buried.


The Importance of Grave Robbery during the 19th and 20th Centuries

Statues from Freedman’s Cemetery Memorial in Dallas, Texas. This cemetery is one of the African American cemeteries that was often robbed. Image courtesy of Maribel Rubio

Grave robbing African American cemeteries was prominent during the 19th and 20th century, which probes a question: why were these bodies stolen? To answer this question, one needs to understand a few details about the circumstances leading to the thefts. First, there was a surge in the number of medical schools in the US that created an increased need for cadavers in anatomy labs. Secondly, the belief in having a “proper burial” to honor the dead became popularized among African Americans because they were denied the right to hold a memorial service for the dead during slavery. Lastly, the importance of proper burials meant that most Americans were unwilling to donate their loved ones dead body to medical schools because dissecting cadavers was viewed as taboo. To meet the needs for cadavers in medical schools, several secretly hired grave robbers to rob bodies from African American cemeteries because black people were legally and socially unable to protect themselves, especially during the 19th century when thousands of black people were enslaved and lacked any agency. Some Northern anatomy professors even forged agreements with Southerners to ship black cadavers in barrels to the north for dissection purposes. The implications of using majority black bodies resulted in the dehumanization of black people in the medical system, a lack of trust between black people and medical researchers, and reticence of donating bodies to medicine within the black community. The disproportionate use of black bodies for dissection purposes also unconsciously formed a views of black people as only medical experimentation material, which has a significant history in the US from the use of Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells for research without her consent to the Tuskegee Experiment. Thankfully, the exploitation of black cadavers and grave robbing has ceased years ago in the US, and medical schools have become cognizant about honoring cadavers by holding memorial services for the dead at the end of their anatomy courses as well as implementing policies to respect the dead, such as not allowing photographs or video recordings to occur in labs.



Cremation Jewelry: Another Way of Remembering

When someone passes away, there is an impulse to find ways to remember the dead. Mourning jewelry is always a good choice: it contains some part of the dead’s remains, for example, hair. The part of the remains will be placed inside a necklace or a ring and the jewelry will be given to families and friends.

The Popularity of Cremation Jewelry 

This tradition was gaining popularity, especially during 16th and 17th centuries. In the 18th century, as the child mortality rate increased to over 20 percent and the occurrence of the Civil War, mourning jewelry became a common practice: soldiers left their hair for their families in case they died on the battlefield; parents wore necklaces which had hairs of the deceased as a way to remember their children.

As a traditional casket burial takes more than $7000, cremation is gaining popularity because it only costs a third of the cost of a traditional casket burial. Because of that, there is a growing number of people who chooses to make cremations rings to honor their loved ones.

Today, cremation jewelry incorporates with various kinds of materials, including silver, gold, crystals, diamond and ashes left from the cremations. The range of choices caters to their preferences and enables families to personalize their way of remembering. The process of making a cremation ring can take up to six months or more, depending on the size of the diamond. The minimum cost of a cremation diamond is $2490 and the cost increases as the desired size increases.


However, cremation jewelry is a controversial topic to discuss. Taking someone’s ashes for making cremation jewelry could be against personal rights. It is common that family members could not reach a consensus on how to do with the body. The question of “who has the right to control the remains of the deceased” should be answered. In only fifteen states, statutes that create a list of persons who have power over the deceased person’s remains in order of their rights are established. If the descendants have a conflict on how to deal with the body, it is crucial to enforce by law who is the one that makes the final decision.


Barrett, N. (2014). You Can Turn Loved One’s Ashes into Jewelry. [online] ABC13 Houston. Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2017].

The National Law Review. (2012). Legal Considerations of Cremation Jewelry. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2017].