It’s common among Communists in India to pledge their bodies for medical research. The precedent was set by Pramode Dasgupta, one of the nine founder members of the CPI(M).
After him, three Communists donated their bodies — former
Bengal land reforms minister Benoy Chowdhury, former Bengal CPI(M) state secretary Anil Biswas and former Citu general secretary Chittabrata Majumdar.
Jyoti Basu, who died in Kolkata on Sunday, had donated his eyes and body. On Tuesday, his body will be handed over to SSKM, a leading state-run medical college and hospital in the city.
DNA spoke to medical experts to find out what happens after the body is donated. Manish Sarkar, secretary, Gana Darpan, an organisation that motivates individuals to donate their bodies to benefit medical science, said that when death occurs due to cardiac failure, only tissues can be put to use. The ear bones, ear drums and skin can be used for ear and skin grafting.
Organs such as liver, kidney, heart, pancreas and even ovaries can be used in transplants when death occurs due to brain stem death, Sarkar says. However, doctors would have to first decide whether a body is fit to be used. “If a person had cancer or died from burns, obviously his organs or skin cannot be used,” said Sarkar.
According to Dr Aniriddha Bhattacharya, general physician at BP Poddar Hospital, the donated bodies can be used for anatomical demonstrations — as a whole or only the viscera (internal organs). The demonstrations can happen in anatomy museums (each medical college has a museum) or students can directly handle these remains.
Dr Bhattacharya clarified that no mortal remains are left. Even after display or dissection, the soft tissues are dissolved with the help of an acidic medium and then treated with chemical agents. This allows the bones to get separated from the dissolved soft tissues (muscle, skin, etc). The bones are then “re-articulated” with wires and screws to form a human skeletal structure for studies.
“There is a huge scarcity of skeletons since very few people pledge their bodies. A single batch of students get barely an hour to study a bone or viscera, which is not enough time for a class of 50,” Dr Bhattacharya said.
Usually, when VIPs donate their bodies, the bones are displayed as a full skeleton in anatomy museums.