Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 7, 2014

Body donation law would change under House bill

LANSING (AP) — Dr. Joyce deJong has performed close to 2,500 autopsies in her career as a forensic pathologist and medical examiner. But she still marvels at the memory of learning from dead bodies as a student.

“Once they’re embalmed, everything has a sort of tan, brown color to them. But then you’d see something (humanizing) like some pink nail polish, and you say, ‘Wow,” she said. “It has an impression. I can’t imagine that it would not, on a medical student.”

Now deJong is working to ensure all Michigan medical students can fully experience the same “rite of passage.” As the founding chair of pathology at Western Michigan University School of Medicine, she’s backing legislation in the state House that would allow any accredited medical school to receive dead body donations.

People can currently donate their bodies to one of three medical schools — Michigan State University, University of Michigan or Wayne State University — which then allocate some donations to other schools and hospitals. But Michigan’s new medical schools want to receive bodies independently to promote donations in their areas and streamline the process.

The number of medical schools in Michigan doubled from three to six in recent years, largely in response to a shortage of doctors in many areas of the state. Oakland University began its medical school classes in 2011, Central Michigan University’s started in 2013 and Western’s will start this fall.

Since medical students begin learning from cadavers in their first year, the need for donors is unprecedented. Dean Mueller, anatomical donations coordinator at Michigan, said the schools “always seem to have enough somehow” but “never have a surplus.”

“If this could encourage people to donate more to their local school, it will be great for medical education. I don’t look at it as somebody is going to be taking away donations from us,” he said about the House bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine.

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