REMEMBER THE scene from ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ where the hero’s sidekick abducts and bumps off a foreigner just so his friend could have a cadaver to hone his dissection skills?
Though it may provide on-screen hilarity, arranging dead bodies to instruct medical students in the finer points of anatomy is no laughing matter. In fact, private medical colleges sometimes adopt routes that are every bit as ‘circuitous’ as the sidekick’s - though not quite as drastic - to procure corpses for teaching purposes.
All that, though, may change soon. In a controversial diktat the Medical Education Department has directed government medical colleges to make unclaimed bodies available ‘on demand’ to privately owned medical, dentistry, Ayurvedic, Homoeopathy and Unani colleges for ‘practical purposes’.
The missive comes after the government issued gazette notifications mandating the handover of cadavers on December 12, 2005, and May 3, 2006. Although it may provide private colleges a legitimate channel for acquiring corpses, government college authorities believe the handover proposal doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance, given that they don’t even have sufficient cadavers for their own purposes.
“At the moment none of our colleges has surplus bodies that can be handed over to private colleges. When we have more than the required number we’ll look into it,” said MGM Medical College Dean Dr V K Saini, who holds the post of Director, State Medical Education (DME), when queried about the notification.
By all accounts the situation is the same at the other four government medical Colleges - Gandhi Medical College (Bhopal), Gajraje Medical College (Gwalior), Subash Chandra Bose Medical College (Jabalpur) and Shah Medical College (Rewa).
Cadavers form an important tool of the medical teaching manual serving initially to tutor first-year students in anatomical intricacies and later providing dissection practice to budding surgeons.
For the most part, unclaimed bodies of people who die of natural causes are embalmed with formaldehyde and passed on to medical colleges for use as cadavers.
Not long ago there was a surfeit of unclaimed corpses, so much so that during the 80s MGM authorities are reported to have disposed 100 bodies by burying them on the campus grounds.
The proliferation of medical colleges with an attendant hike in demand for bodies, increased awareness, governmental insistence on death certificates and NGOs who perform last rites of the abandoned dead have, however, come together to cause a steep decline in the number of corpses available for medical study.
“The number of unclaimed bodies has gone down over the years owing to several reasons. For one, a body can be treated as unclaimed only when the police declare it to be so. However, by the time this happens it is too late for the body to be embalmed and so it cannot be passed on to the students,” declared MY Hospital Superintendent Dr D K Jain.
The upshot is that none of the five government colleges can stake a claim to a sufficient number of cadavers despite having own their own hospitals. “How, then, can we be expected to furnish cadavers to private colleges,” demanded a senior MGM doctor.
Though things may be hard for government-owned medical institutions they are even more difficult for private medical colleges which, with limited opportunities for legitimately acquiring cadavers, allegedly resort to illegal means.
It is only when scandal erupts, as happened when a body was stolen from a mortuary in Sanyogitaganj or when two IMC employees allegedly sold an unclaimed body to a private college, that the public gets a glimpse into the macabre trade in bodies. But, that’s another story.