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Bodies donated to medical science honoured in London memorial service

BSMS > About BSMS > News > 2019 > Bodies donated to medical science honoured in memorial service

Bodies donated to medical science honoured in London memorial service

Each year across the UK, more than one thousand individuals pass away, having generously donated their body to medical science. Approximately 350 of these donations are to the London Anatomy Office (LAO).

On Friday 10 May, a memorial service was held at St Georges Cathedral in London to honour these donations. More than 1,300 family and friends attended the thanksgiving service, joined by anatomy staff, chaplains, and student representatives from all the UK medical schools, including BSMS. The feeling of the event is one of gratitude and thanks, as the amazing gift that these donors have given, is acknowledged. The effect it has had on families is appreciated as they have to delay the normal funeral service for up to three years. 

Kim Claridge, LAO Manager, says: “It is a privilege to have the opportunity to grant someone’s wish to donate themselves and to work with the families and friends of the donors without whom the donation would not take place. The service of thanksgiving is a unique opportunity for them to hear first-hand how valued the gift of donation is and, for the families and friends to be among people who have been through the same experience.”

The service is hosted each year by a different medical school, this year it was St George’s, University of London. Paul Carter, Director of Anatomical Sciences and Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, says: “This is a very important event in the academic year when the students and staff of the medical schools of London and the South East of England can express their gratitude and appreciation for the selfless gift that these donors have made in the surrender of their bodies for the training of the next generation of healthcare professionals and the advancement of surgery. It also recognises the understanding and support that close family members have given in what, is a sad and difficult time for them”. 

The service was led by the Dean of St Georges Cathedral, with the address being given by The Rt. Rev. & Rt. Hon. Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, a former health professional herself.

The LAO coordinates donations on behalf of seven medical schools across London and the South East (King’s College, Imperial, Queen Mary’s, University College London, St Georges, Anglia Ruskin University and BSMS. 

Donated bodies are used in the education of doctors and allied health professionals. They all need to learn about the human body. For all surgeons, knowing every detail of the structure of the body is essential to every surgical procedure they undertake. A GP will need to know the details of the lungs, to help diagnose and treat a lung infection, a nurse needs to know the muscles and nerves of the arm to give a vaccine, a physiotherapist needs to understand the intricate details of a knee to help heal a sports injury, or a dentist the arrangement of muscles and nerves in the jaw to treat a root canal problem. They have all had to learn about the anatomy of the human body. The majority of them would have studied, at universities, using donated bodies. These donors are, commonly, referred to as the ‘silent teachers’. 

Body Donation is strictly governed by the Human Tissue Authority, and donors need to register, while alive. Once registered, the individual needs to inform their next of kin, so that at the time of death the next of kin can inform the medical school. Sadly, not all offers of donation can be accepted, this may be due to certain conditions. The next of kin is also asked about if they wish to have the donor’s body back to undertake their own burial or, if they wish, the medical school to undertake a cremation, which, for donors accepted by the LAO, the family can attend. It is, hence, important for donors to have a conversation about this, with their relatives. 

Dr Claire Smith, Chair of the London and South East Committee of Anatomists and Head of Anatomy at BSMS, adds: “A single donor can affect the lives of around 10 million patients, if you count all the doctors who can train as a result of body donation, and all the patients they will see during their careers. Personally, I can’t think of any other gift a person can give that will affect so many people’s lives in a positive way.”

All the information you need on body donation is provided by asking the medical school for an information pack. However, if you would like to read more and understand some of the stories behind donor’s Dr Smith’s book The Silent Teacher: The Gift of Body Donation is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle or direct from

Enquiries regarding body donation can be made to The London Anatomy Office staff by email or telephone 020 7848 8042.